- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Dissident officers report to superiors

CARACAS, Venezuela A military officer who led protests last week to demand that President Hugo Chavez resign obeyed orders and reported to his commanding officers yesterday to answer for his dissent.

Hundreds of anti-Chavez protesters surrounded air force Col. Pedro Soto as he entered La Carlota military airport in Caracas. An officer who sided with him, national guard Capt. Pedro Flores, also reported to his superior as ordered.

Hours later, Col. Soto branded "a traitor" by Mr. Chavez over the weekend walked free from the air force headquarters. He headed toward Altamira Square in Caracas, where he was expected to speak to his sympathizers.

Mexican general released from prison

MEXICO CITY Celebrating his release after more than eight years in prison, an army general went on nationwide radio Friday to urge reforms to stop human-rights abuses by Mexico's military.

Cabinet members announced late Thursday the surprise release of Gen. Jose Francisco Gallardo, who was serving a 28-year prison sentence on what were widely regarded as phony charges of embezzlement.

Shortly before his jailing in 1993, Gen. Gallardo had publicly recommended that the Mexican military appoint an ombudsman to curb human-rights abuses. "I had broken the unwritten rules of the army and publicly brought to light abuse of power, abuse of authority and corruption inside the army," he told radio listeners.

Treading a fine line between Mexico's secretive military and human rights groups, President Vicente Fox did not pardon the 55-year-old general, reducing his sentence instead to time served.

FARC mortar kills 10 Colombian soldiers

BOGOTA, Colombia A mortar fired by Marxist rebels landed on an army barracks in western Colombia, setting off a fire and killing 10 soldiers as they slept, officials said yesterday.

Seven other soldiers were gravely wounded in the pre-dawn attack in Huila state, blamed on Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), one of two rebel groups battling security forces in the country's 38-year-old civil war.

Yesterday's attack was the second time in weeks the army has suffered heavy losses at the hands of the FARC, a peasant-based insurgency that has strengthened itself militarily through financing from the drug trade.

Weekly notes

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met in Mexico City yesterday with President Vicente Fox at the start of a Latin American tour intended to open new markets for recession-hit German companies. Germany is Mexico's No. 3 trading partner, after the United States and Japan, with bilateral trade exceeding $7.2 billion in 2000. The United States will give its first direct military support to Colombia, financing the army to stop guerrilla attacks on a key oil pipeline, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson announced this week. In an interview with El Tiempo newspaper, she said U.S. aid worth $98 million would go protect the Cano Limon pipeline in Arauca province against rebel attacks.

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