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Colombia detains drug specialist

MEXICO CITY -- One of Mexico's leading specialists on drug trafficking was detained and interrogated by Colombian police last week while returning here from an academic conference in Bogota, the professor and diplomatic sources said.

Luis Astorga, a sociologist and author of three books on drug trafficking in the region, had boarded his return flight to Mexico on Nov. 3 when agents from Colombia's Administrative Security Department forced him to disembark, he said.

During a three-hour interrogation, the agents rifled through his luggage and wallet before confiscating a Colombian army report on the alleged links between the country's most powerful guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and Mexican drug traffickers, he said.

The agents claimed the document was classified. But Astorga said it had been given to him by a colleague at the congress on drug trafficking, sponsored by Colombia's National Museum, and that it had already been widely circulated outside the country.

"They made me look like some kind of a James Bond, as if these documents weren't already public," said Astorga, who was awarded a grant from both governments to pursue his research of the links between Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers and the guerrillas, known as the FARC. He said he now worries that he could be detained again when he returns to Colombia.

He apparently has reason to be concerned. Indhira Guzman, the Colombian army researcher who gave Astorga the document, later reported receiving death threats for her role in providing the information.

"I am afraid, and more so when they call and remind me that I have a daughter," Guzman wrote in an e-mail to Astorga on Saturday. She hinted that the threats were coming from inside the Colombian armed forces, saying "you know what institution I'm talking about, and to challenge someone there is to ask for problems."

Astorga asked the Mexican ambassador in Colombia to write a letter of protest, but had not received a response. "Without official support, I am totally vulnerable," he said.

A spokesman at the Mexican Embassy in Bogota said he knew of Astorga's detention, but could not say whether his government would protest it.

Officials at the Colombian Embassy in Mexico City, meanwhile, said they were aware of the incident but could not immediately comment. However, Elvira Cuervo de Jaramillo, the director of Colombia's National Museum, sent an angry letter to the head of the Colombian security agency protesting the detention. "It is imperative that these types of incidents do not repeat themselves," she wrote, "and that the state security organizations are more selective . . . in determining who is suspicious and who is not."

Astorga speculated that his detention might be related to accusations made in July by Colombia's ambassador to Mexico, Luis Ignacio Guzman, that the FARC was operating support groups on campus at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where Astorga teaches. Mexican officials vehemently denied the charges and the Colombian government issued a statement distancing itself from its ambassador's remarks.

But tensions remain. Astorga said the agents might have been trying to scare other academics away from probing too deeply into Colombia's security problems, as the government struggles with a 40-year civil war.

"It was carefully orchestrated theater, to create an impact," he said, describing how the agents waited until the last moment to storm the plane and escort him off. "They treated me like a drug suspect."

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