BOGOTA, Colombia – Venezuela deported to Colombia on Monday a man authorities said was a top FARC guerrilla representative in Europe who ran a Swedish-based website that serves as the leftist rebels' news agency.
The deportation of Joaquin Perez, who was arrested in Venezuela on Saturday upon arriving from Europe, was the latest sign of a thaw in relations between Bogota and Caracas.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview published Monday that he personally called his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, on Saturday to inform him of Perez's arrival later that day on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany and request the arrest.
He called the 55-year-old Perez, also known as "Alberto Martinez," the most important operative in Europe of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
"It's another sign that Chavez is true to his word. We thank him for it," Santos said in an interview with the newspaper El Tiempo.
Clad in a bulletproof vest, Perez told reporters at the Bogota airport after arriving on a Colombian police twin-engine Beechcraft that he was a "social communicator." He denied belonging to the FARC.
He also denied reports he had flown to Caracas to meet with Rodrigo Londono, alias "Timochenko," a top FARC commander.
Before Santos took office last August, Colombian officials had long accused Venezuela of harboring top FARC leaders as well as hosting rebel camps where guerrillas got medical attention and ran cocaine-trafficking operations.
Chavez retaliated by cutting commercial ties with Colombia that cost farmers and ranchers in Venezuela's neighbor hundreds of millions of dollars.
The pragmatic Santos opted to mend ties with Chavez, even agreeing to extradite to Venezuela in coming days a Venezuelan captured in Colombia last year that Washington considers a major drug kingpin.
In agreeing to extradite Walid Makled, Santos spurned a U.S. extradition request, in effect returning to Venezuela a man who alleges that top members of Chavez's ruling circle colluded with him to smuggle tons of U.S.-bound cocaine through Venezuela.
Perez's lawyers in Caracas had fought his deportation, arguing he is a Swedish citizen who long ago renounced his Colombian citizenship. The Swedish Embassy in Bogota said it was looking into the case and could not confirm Perez's status.
Earlier, Colombia's chief anti-terrorism prosecutor, Hermes Ardila, said Perez was arrested based on emails found on the computers of FARC commander Raul Reyes, who was slain in 2008 in a cross-border raid into Ecuador.
Ardila told The Associated Press that emails found on Reyes' computers proved Perez "was part of the FARC and received money from the FARC to finance the Anncol site," which publishes rebel communiques, interviews with FARC leaders and pro-insurgent editorials.
Associated Press writers Libardo Cardona in Bogota and Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.