LA PAZ, BOLIVIA (AP) - Bolivian officials were investigating Friday who financed a plot to assassinate President Evo Morales and what an international group of alleged mercenaries _ including two fighters from the Balkan wars _ were doing in Bolivia.
Among three men killed and two arrested in a dramatic police shootout in the opposition bastion of Santa Cruz, at least two suspects fought for Croatian independence, according to government officials.
Bolivian police closed in on the group Thursday in the eastern city, sparking a dramatic gun battle as the suspects fled to a downtown hotel and blew out its windows with a grenade.
Police commander General Victor Hugo Escobar identified the dead ringleader of the band as 49-year-old Eduardo Rosza Flores, son of a Hungarian father and Bolivian mother.
Rosza commanded a brigade in the Balkans after arriving there as a war correspondent in 1991, according this his personal Web blog.
The firefight with police also killed Magyarosi Arpak, a Romanian sniper, and Michel Martin Dwyer, an Irish expert in martial arts and weapons, the police commander said.
Police arrested Mario Francisco Tadik Astorga, 58, a Bolivian-Croatian who also fought in the Balkans, and Elot Toazo, a Hungarian computer science expert.
They have yet to be assigned lawyers. Prosecutor Jorge Gutierrez said the suspects were presented before prosecutors.
The group was monitored for some time until it launched a dynamite attack at the house of Cardinal Julio Terrazas in Santa Cruz on Wednesday that caused no fatalities, Deputy Government Marcos Farfan Erbol said Friday.
Police seized an arsenal, personal computers containing city plans of Santa Cruz and La Paz, the capital, and a list of possible targets, Escobar said.
The government said the group planned to attack the president, vice president and other authorities and personalities, including Santa Cruz Gov. Ruben Costas, a leader of political opposition to Morales.
It was unclear why a group of alleged anti-Morales assassins would attack Costas or Terrazas, who also is known to support the president’s opponents controlling much of Bolivia’s farm and natural gas wealth in the lowland east around Santa Cruz.
But Costas questioned the government’s information, saying it was “mounting a show” to discredit the opposition.
Santa Cruz and three other states have adopted measures seeking greater autonomy from Morales’ central government.
Morales has accused Costas of fomenting anti-government violence after rioters in September seized state buildings to block a vote on a new constitution. Eleven people died in the skirmishes, and a U.N. report found the president’s political opponents responsible.
Morales ejected the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration officials over accusations that American diplomats had supported the opposition. He also claimed that the U.S. organized groups to assassinate him. Washington denies those charges.