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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ecuador says arrested suspect not rebel leader

QUITO, March 11 (Reuters) - A man captured by Ecuador's police is not a Colombian rebel leader wanted by the United States as initially claimed, authorities said on Wednesday.

Ecuadorean security officials said earlier on Wednesday they had arrested FARC guerrilla leader Sixto Antonio Cabana, also known as "Domingo Bioho," in a remote town near the Colombian border. Washington has offered a $2.5 million reward for his arrest, on charges of drug smuggling.

Judicial police chief Oswaldo Yepez said later the arrested man's fingerprints did not match those of Cabana after checks with Interpol.

"They are two different people," Yepez told reporters.

Yepez added that authorities were investigating if the man arrested on charges of smuggling chemicals used to make cocaine was a member of the FARC guerrilla group.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, whose U.S.-backed military offensive has weakened Latin America's oldest insurgency, recently asked neighboring countries to do more to counter rebels hiding inside their territory.

The deaths of three top FARC leaders last year, increasing desertions and military setbacks have driven the guerrillas deeper into Colombia's remote jungles near its border with Ecuador and Venezuela.

Ecuador has rejected Colombia's attempts to mend ties, but has increased security in its northern border to combat growing violence from rebel and paramilitary groups that battle for cocaine-smuggling routes. Ecuador is a major trafficking route.

The FARC -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- has fought the state for more than four decades, helped by finances gained from extortion, kidnapping and trade in the country's huge cocaine business.

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