Venezuela to open military trial for 5 Colombians accused of espionage, sabotage

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Colombians face spy, sabotage trial in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela — Five Colombians were transferred to a military court Wednesday to face espionage and sabotage charges after Venezuelan officials accused them of spying on and tampering with the nation’s power grid.

The proceedings will take place at a military tribunal in the northeastern city of Maracay, the state-run ABN news agency said. ABN did not provide additional details such as when it would begin.

Three other Colombians arrested in the same case were released, according to relatives, though it was not clear whether they were absolved of any possible charges.

Military prosecutors have not spoken about the case, but President Hugo Chavez announced last month that the Colombians were arrested as suspected spies. He said several carried documents identifying them as members of the Colombian military.

Officials claim they were photographing power plants, and Chavez said he believed they were involved in an effort to sabotage Venezuela’s electrical grid to worsen the country’s energy crisis.

Investigators say they confiscated a camera containing images of power plants and installations connected to the grid, though no photos have been made public.

Colombia’s government has denied involvement in any attempt to spy on or sabotage Venezuela’s power grid.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe also has expressed concern about the treatment of his country’s citizens and urged human rights groups to monitor the case. Colombia’s Foreign Ministry has asked Venezuela to explain the arrests.

The arrests have escalated long-standing tensions between Chavez’s socialist administration and Colombia’s U.S.-allied government.

Chavez is angry over Uribe’s deal to give the U.S. military increased access to Colombian military bases. Colombia accuses Venezuela of supporting Colombia’s Marxist rebels — an allegation that Chavez denies.

Milena Bedoya Giraldo told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the three Colombians freed the previous evening were her mother, Elba Giraldo, and her cousins Santiago Giraldo and Isabel Giraldo.

Colombian officials did not immediately comment on reports of their release.

Meanwhile, 19 Colombians were reported arrested in Miranda state on suspicion of illegally trimming trees on public property and unlawful weapons possession.

That prompted Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva to suggest Venezuelan authorities are increasingly harassing his compatriots.

“We are looking with concern at the arbitrary measures against Colombians in Venezuela,” Silva said.

Associated Press Writer Luisa Fernanda Cuellar in Bogota contributed to this report.

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