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Former Bolivian dictator arrested on exposure charge, government says

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: The former president denies in a TV interview having contact with the girls
  • Juan Pereda Asbun exposed himself to a group of children, officials say
  • He was sent to a drug rehab facility after he was found with cocaine
  • Pereda ruled Bolivia for four months in 1978

(CNN) -- A former Bolivian dictator has been arrested on a charge that he exposed himself to a group of children and has been sent to a drug rehabilitation center, the state-run news agency reported.

Former air force Gen. Juan Pereda Asbun, who ruled the South American nation for four months in 1978, was arrested Tuesday after a father and a group of young people detained him because he tried to get a girl to get into his car after exposing himself to other children, the government's ABI news service reported Wednesday.

After his arrest, authorities said, officers found he was carrying two boxes of cigarettes loaded with cocaine, commonly known as "pitillos."

"After taking his statement, Pereda, who identified himself as an air force general, underwent a series of clinical exams, primarily urine, to determine the extent of drug consumption affecting him," said Col. Ruben Suarez, head of the Special Force to Combat Narcotrafficking.

The result of the urine test was positive for drugs, Suarez said in a news conference broadcast Wednesday by CNN affiliate Unitel TV.

Pereda, 79, was admitted to a rehab facility to treat a cocaine addiction, ABI said. He also underwent a psychological examination, Suarez said.

The cocaine found on the former dictator was for personal use and not for sale or distribution, Suarez said, adding that Pereda had not been linked to any narcotrafficking organization.

In a TV interview at the police station, Pereda denied any wrongdoing with the girls.

"I say that it is false," Pereda said in the interview, broadcast on Unitel.

The silver-haired Pereda said he had not talked with the girls or had any contact with them.

"I don't know them," he said before being led away.

Pereda was arrested in Santa Cruz, the largest city in Bolivia, with a population of more than 1.6 million.

Neighborhood residents told Unitel they had seen Pereda cruising the area before and that he had previously accosted the girls, who ranged in age from 12 to 14 years old.

Pereda ruled from July to November 1978, taking power after overthrowing dictator Hugo Banzer and losing the presidency in another coup. He has not served in any public capacity since then.

Bolivia was ruled by military dictatorships from 1964 to 1982, with the exception of two brief democratic governments in 1979 and 1980.

The last dictator, Gen. Guido Vildoso, ordered the military back to their barracks in October 1982 and re-established civilian rule.

Bolivia is now ruled by democratically elected President Evo Morales, a leftist indigenous politician who has held power since January 2006.