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Two American soldiers accused of arms trafficking emerged from jail Thursday and were handed over to U.S. officials, but a top Colombian official tried to delay their deportation, saying a treaty granting them immunity might be invalid.
Inspector General Edgardo Jose Maya's move reflected a widespread sentiment among Colombians that the two U.S. Army soldiers - a chief warrant officer and a sergeant - should face trial in Colombia. They were arrested Tuesday in connection with an alleged plot to smuggle more than 40,000 rounds of ammunition, possibly to outlawed right-wing paramilitary death squads responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians.
The two American soldiers - identified as Alan Norman Tanquary and Jesus Hernandez - spent the night in a police holding cell in Ibague, a town of crumbling brick buildings in the mountains of west-central Colombia. On Thursday morning, they were hustled by authorities out a back door, eluding waiting journalists. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said they were headed to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.
"The two U.S. soldiers are now in American custody and will be while U.S. officials attempt to ascertain more facts and determine how to proceed," said Whitman, who declined to comment on specifics of the accusations against the soldiers.
The ammunition had been sent to Colombia by the United States under its Plan Colombia aid program.