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June 27, 2017

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Colombia sacks intelligence chiefs

BOGOTA--Two Colombian military intelligence chiefs were sacked Tuesday after the president ordered a probe of claims an army unit spied on his negotiators holding peace talks with FARC rebels.

President Juan Manuel Santos called the alleged eavesdropping an attempt by "obscure forces" to sabotage his efforts to end the half century old insurgency, denouncing it as "totally unacceptable."

He said he had instructed Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon "to investigate this situation in depth: how far it reached, who was behind this, who was interested in taping our peace negotiators."

Santos said he wanted to know "what dark forces are behind this, if there are loose cannons in army intelligence, who they are reporting to."

Pinzon said the head of army intelligence, and the head of the army's technical intelligence unit, were being dismissed.

"We are going to determine if intelligence activities were carried out to protect national security, or if they were reassigned to constitutionally barred activities," said the country's top prosecutor, Eduardo Montealegre.

The alleged spying was first disclosed by the magazine Semana, which reported Tuesday that a special army unit was set up in 2012 to illegally intercept the communications of members of the government's negotiating team.

The Bogota's delegation to the peace talks in the Cuban capital Havana is led by former vice president Humberto de la Calle, Sergio Jaramillo and Alejandro Eder.

Santos said the state had an obligation to spy on enemies like the FARC, or organized crime.

"What is unacceptable from any point of view is that intelligence target legitimate, ordinary citizens, political opponents and much less officials of the state itself," he said.

In Havana, de la Calle declined to comment on the Semana report. A FARC delegate, Victoria Sandino, said the rebel group would make a statement Wednesday.

"We knew there was spying, that's obvious," a member of the FARC delegation said on condition of anonymity.

"The news here is that a sector of military intelligence was spying on the president's office."

In 2011, Santos disbanded an intelligence agency, the Administrative Department of Security, which was involved in the alleged illegal wiretapping of leftist politicians and was said to have links to right-wing paramilitary groups.

Since November 2012, his government has been in negotiations with the FARC, the country's largest and longest-fighting insurgency. It has been at arms since 1964.

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