Man killed by Colombian army during guerrilla battle was English

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The Independent US

A British man is believed to have been shot dead by Colombian army troops during fighting with leftist guerrillas from the National Liberation Army.

Local reports originally identified the man as Jeremy Parks from Northern Ireland, raising suspicions that he might be connected with the IRA. Three Irish men have been held in Bogota since August on suspicion of giving IRA weapons training to another rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). But it emerged last night that the British passport found on the man's body identified him as Jeremy Parks, from Bromley, south-east London.

A 28-year-old-man of the same name is known to have been travelling in the region recently and entered Colombia on a 60-day tourist visa on 15 September. A Foreign Office spokeswoman in London said yesterday that the Government could not be absolutely sure that he was the victim.

General Nestor Martinez, a Colombian army spokesman, said that the dead man was wearing rebel gear. It was unclear whether he was fighting alongside the guerrillas or had been held hostage by them.

No abduction has been reported. Although Colombia's second biggest fighting force frequently builds its war chest through kidnapping for ransom, it usually takes hostages in groups.

The man carrying the British passport was killed by a bullet during a battle near Quibdo, in the northern Choco state. A second guerrilla's body was found beside him after the rebels fled.

Authorities were checking whether Mr Parks had travelling companions when he entered Colombia. An Irish embassy spokesman in Bogota said: "There is no evidence to suggest that Mr Parks was an Irish citizen or had dual citizenship. Confusion in local press reports may have come from passport wording that refers to Great Britain and Northern Ireland."

Colombian army intelligence claims to have identified at least 15 IRA operatives who have been active in Colombia in recent years, along with visitors from Spain, Cuba, and Venezuela. In addition, scores of Western backpackers have trekked to San Vicente de Caguan, the capital of a southern safe zone ceded to guerrillas nearly three years ago, to gain revolutionary cachet with a visit to "Farclandia".

Since the arrest of the suspected IRA trio, all visitors to the autonomous Caguan province must first hold government permits.

A fourth Irish tourist was found near the zone's borders last month. When no connections to the IRA could be proved, he was deported.

The 5,000-strong National Liberation Army, which is less than a third of the size of Farc, was founded by a Spanish priest to foment Cuban-style revolution in Colombia's jungles. Four decades of conflict in Colombia have cost an estimated 40,000 lives.

President Andres Pastrana suspended all treaties with the ELN guerrillas last August, and renounced them for repeated failures to negotiate peace in good faith. He withdrew the offer of a parcel of land to serve as a safe haven.

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