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Colombian guerrillas held on U.S. drug charges

  • Story Highlights
  • Two members charged with conspiring to import cocaine into U.S.
  • U.S. officials say they are members of FARC
  • After arrest in Colombia, they are expected to be extradited
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Two members of a Colombian guerrilla group have been arrested on federal U.S. drug charges, the U.S. attorney in New York announced.

Jose Joaquin Montes-Ovalles, known as Jaco, and Maria Lilian Castellanos-Poveda, often called Lili, were arrested in Colombia on Thursday and charged with conspiring to import more than five kilograms (11 pounds) of cocaine into the United States, according to a January indictment unsealed Thursday in Manhattan federal court.

U.S. officials say the two belong to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly referred to by its Spanish acronym, FARC. According to the indictment, FARC is "the world's largest supplier of cocaine."

In an e-mail to an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent in May 2006, the indictment says, Montes-Ovalles described himself and Castellanos-Poveda as "the FARC top representatives in these negotiations."

Montes-Ovalles and Castellanos-Poveda had met with two undercover DEA agents in Panama a month earlier to discuss a 1,000-kilogram (2,200-pound) shipment of cocaine from an airstrip in Venezuela, the indictment alleges. The DEA agents were posing as members of the Juarez cartel, one of Mexico's main cocaine-trafficking organizations.

According to the indictment, the two FARC members had a series of e-mail and telephone contacts with the undercover agents until late December 2008. In one of the contacts, the document says, the suspects promised to provide security in Colombia for the agents.

Montes-Ovalles and Castellanos-Poveda were arrested in Colombia by army soldiers and agents from the nation's federal investigative unit and the prosecutor's office, said Lev L. Dassin, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and John P. Gilbride, special agent in charge of the New York DEA office.

The indictment was handed up in New York, and the suspects are expected to be extradited.

FARC, the largest and oldest guerrilla group in Colombia, has been waging war against the Colombian government since the 1960s.

Security analysts say the FARC has about 9,000 to 12,000 armed guerillas and several thousand supporters, mostly in rural areas.

A news release by Dassin and Gilbride says the Marxist guerrilla group has "approximately 10,000 armed guerrillas organized into 77 'fronts' and four urban militias."

Montes-Ovalles and Castellanos-Poveda are accused in the indictment of belonging to the 10th Front, based in the Arauca state in Colombia, on the border with Venezuela.

"The 10th Front supports its terrorist activities and those of the FARC by supplying and arranging shipments of cocaine from airstrips in Venezuela and on the border of Colombia and Venezuela," the indictment says.

The guerrilla group operates mostly in Colombia but has carried out extortion, kidnappings, bombings and other activities in Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador.

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