Colombia Rebels Admit to Killings

.c The Associated Press

SAN VICENTE DEL CAGUAN, Colombia (AP) -- Colombia's largest rebel group admitted Wednesday that one of its officers kidnapped and killed three American activists found dead last week.

A guerrilla commander in eastern Arauca state acted without the approval of his superiors, said Raul Reyes, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The local commander, identified as Gildardo, ``captured them and executed them without consulting higher ranking bodies,'' Reyes told reporters near this rebel-controlled southern town.

Reyes, a member of FARC's ruling council, said the guilty rebel officer may face the death penalty for his role in the slayings, which provoked international outrage and endangered Colombia's fledgling peace process.

The bound and bullet-ridden bodies of Ingrid Washinawatok, 41, Lahe'ena'e Gay, 39, and Terence Freitas, 24, were found in a Venezuelan field one week after they were abducted by armed men.

The three Americans were in Colombia to help set up a school system for a local Indian group, the 8,000-member U'wa nation.

Reyes said the FARC rebels picked up the three Americans after discovering their presence ``without guerrilla authorization'' on the U'wa reservation along the border with Venezuela.

He said that killing foreigners was not rebel policy, and requested forgiveness from indigenous peoples around the world.

Washington had blamed the killings on the FARC, and requested that the guilty parties be extradited to stand trial in the United States.

Reyes said Gildardo would remain in rebel-held Colombia. ``We will not turn over our fighters to any state.''

AP-NY-03-10-99 1827EST

Copyright 1998 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without prior written authority of The Associated Press.