March 10, 1999
SAN VICENTE DEL CAGUAN, Colombia (CNN) -- Colombia's leading Marxist rebel group admitted Wednesday that its fighters kidnapped and murdered three U.S. activists, an act that provoked international outrage.
Leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia refused to turn over the killers for extradition to the United States but said they would be "sanctioned" in keeping with what they called their own code of revolutionary justice.
Terence Freitas, 24, of Oakland, California; Ingrid Washinawatok, 41, an American Indian resident in New York; and Lahe'ena'e Gay, 39, of Hawaii, were kidnapped February 25 in northeast Arauca province. Their bound and bullet-ridden bodies were found dumped just across the river in Venezuela last Thursday.
Raul Reyes, a senior commander of the rebel group, known by its Spanish acronym FARC, said the guerrilla commander who ordered the three killed acted without his superiors' approval.
"Commander Gildardo of the FARC's 10th Front ... found that strangers had entered the U'wa Indian region and did not have authorization from the guerrillas," said Reyes, a member of the FARC's ruling General Secretariat. "He improvised an investigation, captured and executed them without consulting his superiors."
Reyes told reporters near this rebel-controlled southern town that the guilty officer may be executed for his role in the slayings but stressed that "none of our members would be handed over to other states."
FARC had previously denied responsibility for the murder-kidnappings, blaming them instead on "enemies" of the country's fledgling peace process -- a reference to rightist paramilitary gangs or disgruntled sectors of the military.
Washington blamed the killings on FARC and asked that the suspects be extradited to stand trial in the United States.
The North American trio had been in Colombia for about two weeks helping the 8,000-member U'wa nation defend its ancestral lands against plans by U.S. multinational Occidental Petroleum Corp. to explore for oil.
Reyes said killing foreigners is not rebel policy, and he requested forgiveness from indigenous peoples around the world.
FARC, Latin America's largest and oldest rebel army, has battled the Colombian government for three decades and has sought to cultivate an image abroad as a hero of Colombia's downtrodden peasants. Since January, it has been involved in on-and-off peace negotiations with the government of Colombian President Andres Pastrana.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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