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2 GIs Arrested in Colombia With Arms Cache

Special to The Times

In the second embarrassing incident involving U.S. troops here in a little more than a month, Colombian police have detained two U.S. soldiers on suspicion of arms smuggling near a large military base in this nation’s heartland, officials said Wednesday.

The soldiers, whose names, ranks and duties were not disclosed, were arrested Tuesday in a condominium near the town of Carmen de Apicala with a “big quantity” of ammunition, Colombian Police Chief Jorge Daniel Castro told local radio.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota confirmed the arrests Wednesday, but it refused to provide details.

“The two soldiers were detained [Tuesday] afternoon by Colombian police,” said an embassy spokesman, who requested anonymity.

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“The embassy is working to ascertain more facts about the case, and we will know more information as it becomes available.”

The soldiers were arrested near the huge Tolemaida military base, about 50 miles southwest of Bogota, where U.S. troops are stationed to train Colombian soldiers in anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism tactics.

Castro said a man led police Tuesday to a condominium where a large stash of ammunition was discovered along with the two American soldiers, who were unable to satisfactorily explain why they were there.

“It was a big quantity of ammunition, and it’s a very suspicious case,” the police chief said.

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Three Colombians also were detained. It was unclear what the suspects planned to do with the more than 30,000 rounds of 9-millimeter ammunition.

The arrests come on the heels of the March 29 detention of five GIs suspected of smuggling 35 pounds of cocaine to El Paso on U.S. military aircraft from the Apiay military base in Colombia’s Meta province.

That episode touched off a political firestorm in Colombia because the five soldiers have diplomatic immunity and will be prosecuted in the United States rather than here. One soldier has been released for lack of evidence; the other four remain in U.S. custody.

The Colombian attorney general’s office is conducting its own investigation, however, and is hoping that the soldiers, whose identities have not been released, will provide more information. Colombian officials believe a U.S. contractor also was involved.

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In a separate case, the attorney general’s office is investigating whether a U.S. soldier, Sgt. Jonathan Marshall, was involved in the Aug. 29 hit-and-run deaths of two Colombian soldiers on a motorcycle near the Apiay base. The U.S. government conducted two investigations and concluded that Marshall, who has since returned to the U.S., had nothing to do with the deaths.

As part of Plan Colombia, the U.S. has spent $3 billion since 2000 on training Colombian troops in anti-drug and anti-terrorism tactics. Under the plan, which is slated to end this year, 800 U.S. military personnel and 600 civilian contractors are allowed in Colombia at any one time to aid in the training and other activities.

The work of the U.S. military in this country is largely secretive. Soldiers are not allowed to play direct combat roles in the 40-year-old conflict among the Colombian government, leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary forces.


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