World News

Colombian rebel leader found guilty of conspiracy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Colombian rebel leader was convicted on Monday for conspiring to take hostages in connection with the kidnapping of three American contractors in 2003.

Ricardo Palmera, the most senior leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to go on trial in the United States, was found guilty on the one count by a federal jury.

The judge instructed the jury to keep deliberating and try to reach a verdict on four other counts of hostage-taking and providing material support to a terrorist group.

The U.S. government has designated the group, known as FARC, as a foreign terrorist organization. FARC rebels have been fighting for socialist revolution since 1964.

Palmera, also known as Simon Trinidad, was captured in Ecuador and then extradited to the United States from Colombia in December 2004. A former banker born into Colombian high society, Palmera was radicalized by a murder campaign against leftists in the 1980s.

His first trial ended in November last year when deadlocked jurors said they could not agree on a verdict. He then was tried a second time.

FARC took three American contractors hostage in February 2003 after their plane crashed during an anti-drug reconnaissance flight in southern Colombia. The three -- Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves -- remain in FARC captivity.

Palmera said he had never met the Americans. But U.S. prosecutors said he was involved in an effort to exchange them for FARC members held by the Colombian government.

Palmera also will face a separate trial, scheduled for later this year, on drug trafficking charges.

Palmera was one of FARC’s top negotiators during failed peace negotiations with the government of former President Andres Pastrana, a friend from his youth.

The verdict on the one count came on the jury’s fourth day of deliberations.