Uribe demands explanation for arrests in Venezuela

BOGOTA (AP) — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Wednesday protested the arrests of eight Colombians on spying accusations in Venezuela, saying his government is concerned about their treatment.

Uribe told radio station ABC of Barranquilla that Colombia's foreign ministry will ask President Hugo Chavez's government to explain the arrests, and he urged international human rights groups to monitor the case.

"We request that the human rights of these citizens be fully respected," he said.

The arrests have escalated long-standing tensions between Chavez's socialist administration and Colombia's U.S.-allied government.

Chavez said Tuesday that the eight Colombians were arrested on suspicion of spying more than a week ago. He said they had computers and satellite telephones and were using cameras to take photographs of Venezuelan power plants.

Chavez said some of those detained carried identification indicating they are members of Colombia's military.

Milena Bedoya Giraldo, a daughter of one of those arrested, said in a telephone interview from Medellin, where she lives, that her mother, Elba Giraldo, is not a spy and lives in Venezuela to work in a family business that produces ice cream.

Bedoya said her mother's partner, Carlos Cossio, who also was detained, once worked years ago for Colombia's military but as a doctor.

Uribe said Cossio holds dual Colombian-Canadian citizenship because he lived in Canada early in the past decade, and had previously worked as a doctor in a military unit in Medellin.

Bedoya said she learned about the arrests from her uncle, Angel Giraldo, who owns the ice cream factory, and said three cousins were also detained along with a worker in the business.

Chavez has called the ice cream business "a facade."

Venezuela's justice minister, Tareck El Aissami, said six were detained in the western state of Barinas and two in northern Aragua state.

A remark by El Aissami that the suspects' Colombian nationality was "worrisome" prompted a rebuke from Uribe, who said being Colombian had apparently led to a "presumption of guilt." He called that a "serious violation of human rights."

Colombia's public ombudsman, Volmar Perez, said in a statement that 12 other Colombians also remain jailed in Caracas.

They were detained March 19 at a farm in the central Venezuelan state of Miranda and accused of being part of a paramilitary group. Perez said their relatives in Colombia accuse the Venezuelan authorities of detaining them simply because they found five "old shotguns" on the farm.

Perez called for intervention by the Organization of American States' human rights body to protect the rights of Colombians living in Venezuela.