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THE WORLD

Bolivian Ex-President Faces Treason Charges

Destruction of the country's missiles sparked outrage.

March 10, 2006|From Reuters

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Former President Eduardo Rodriguez has been charged with treason for sending the country's only missiles to be destroyed in the United States, the attorney general said Thursday.

President Evo Morales, a leftist who regularly criticizes U.S. foreign policy, had denounced the destruction of the 30 Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles during his campaign for the December presidential election.

It was Morales who initiated the legal complaint against his predecessor, a Supreme Court justice who was appointed caretaker president in June last year. Two top officials from the military and Defense ministry also face charges.

Bolivian Atty. Gen. Pedro Gareca said the main offenses were spying, falsifying documents and subjecting the country to foreign control.

"All of this is treason against the nation, undoubtedly," he said in announcing the charges.

The sentence for treason in Bolivia is 30 years, but several legal stages must be passed before Rodriguez can be put on trial.

There was no immediate reaction from the government or Rodriguez, who has said he was misled by military officials over the operation to destroy the weapons.

He has said that the aging missiles needed to be destroyed, but that he did not authorize their shipment in October to the United States -- a move that sparked outrage in Bolivia, where anti-U.S. sentiments are strong.

Bolivian media have linked the missiles saga with the latest in a string of spats between the new government and the United States, which is wary of Morales' leftist leanings and his commitment to defending the cultivation of coca, which is the source of cocaine.

This week, Morales accused Washington of "blackmail, threats and intimidation" for withdrawing funding from a joint anti-terrorism unit because the U.S. was unhappy with the commander chosen to head it.

Newspaper reports, citing military sources, said the anti-terrorism unit's commander had told Morales about the program to destroy the missiles.

Asked by journalists Wednesday whether the reports were correct, Morales said, "There are many patriotic military men who revealed this matter. They informed to defend their country."

The U.S. Embassy in La Paz has said the United States complied with a Bolivian government request to help it dispose of obsolete military equipment. It also denied seeking "to impose the naming of candidates to positions of leadership in the Bolivian government."

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