Sunday, September 25, 2005

Venezuelan Ex-Soldiers Fear Being Sent Back

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Venezuelan Ex-Soldiers Fear Being Sent Back
Top military officials accused of trying to oust Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in a 2002 coup want Colombia to grant them refugee status.

Associated Press

Former top Venezuelan military officials accused of trying to oust Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in a 2002 coup are seeking refugee status in Colombia.

Rear Adm. Héctor Ramírez, who was named Venezuela's defense minister during the failed two-day coup, is one of nine former or current military officers seeking refuge in Colombia, local media reported Tuesday.

''Unfortunately, we cannot return to our country, precisely due to political persecution,'' Ramírez said, according to the RCN radio website.

The officers began arriving in Colombia in December, RCN said. If convicted of rebellion in Venezuela, they face up to 30 years in prison.

Besides Ramírez, those in Colombia include former Venezuelan Vice Adm. Edgar Murillo and former Air Force Gen. Pedro Pereira, RCN said. After the failed coup, Ramírez and Pereira were among dissident officers expelled from the military and forced into retirement for dereliction of duty.

The Venezuelan government sought to try them for rebellion along with two other ex-officers, but the Supreme Court absolved the group by a narrow majority in August 2002, provoking violent street protests by Chávez supporters.

Chávez harshly criticized that ruling, and his allies in Congress last year voted out the Supreme Court's vice president who had presided over the ruling, pointing to alleged irregularities in his appointment.

In March, the Supreme Court took up the matter again and overturned its earlier ruling absolving the ex-officers. Prosecutors said they would seek to try them again.

Pedro Carmona, a former national business leader who was sworn in as president during the coup, was granted asylum in Colombia in 2002 and lives in Bogotá.

Colombia's government recently rejected requests for refugee status by a number of Venezuelans but the cases are under appeal, said an official with Colombia's Foreign Ministry. A Colombian government official speaking on condition of anonymity, citing privacy laws, would not specify the names of the Venezuelans seeking refugee status.


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