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Colombia judge frees US missionary arrested over alleged FARC ties

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Bogota: A Colombian judge on Thursday said there was not enough evidence to keep an American missionary jailed after he was arrested over suspected links to FARC leftist guerrillas.
Russell Martin Stendal, 59, a Christian missionary who is a longtime resident of Colombia, was detained Wednesday at police headquarters in Bogota. He turned himself in after learning of his arrest warrant.

Prosecutors said they had been investigating Stendal over suspicions that he provided logistical support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the main rebel group in Colombia`s 50-year-old civil war.

But a judge on Thursday ruled that the case against Stendal was not currently sufficient to warrant his detention, and ordered his release.

An official in the prosecutors office had earlier told AFP that Stendal helped set up secret stations to care for wounded and sick fighters, and a police report said he was accused of providing “electronic and communications” support to the group.

Local media said Stendal`s lawyer Eder Castro said he was a dedicated missionary, not a criminal.

Castro told the El Tiempo newspaper that Stendal was in Colombia to “distribute bibles and preach the word to everyone, he has traveled to some of the most dangerous areas of the country to evangelize.”

Colombia`s five-decade-old conflict is estimated to have claimed some 220,000 lives.

FARC and the government have been in stop-start peace talks in Havana since November 2012.

AFP

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