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Venezuelan Soldiers to Be Freed by U.S.

April 26, 2006

MIAMI (AP) _ Two dissident Venezuelan military officers who fled their country after being accused in two Caracas bombings will be freed from U.S. custody Friday but not extradited to their native country, officials said.

Former army Lts. Jose Antonio Colina and German Varela have been detained by U.S. immigration officials since 2003 after requesting asylum upon arriving in Miami, citing a fear of persecution by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s government.

Venezuela has asked for the two men to be extradited. The two have denied any involvement in the bombings at the Spanish Embassy and Colombian Consulate. Four people were injured. The men accused Chavez of persecuting them for belonging to a group of officers who occupied a Caracas plaza in 2002 and futilely called for rebellion against his government.

Philadelphia attorney Matthew Archambeault, who represents Colina, said Wednesday the Board of Immigration Appeals approved a joint motion Friday by defense attorneys and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to dismiss the long-standing removal case against the two.

The Executive Office of Immigration Review confirmed Wednesday that the board agreed to dismiss the cases.

A spokeswoman for the immigration enforcement arm reached by telephone Wednesday had no immediate comment. A telephone message seeking comment from the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington was not immediately returned.

In February, a U.S. State Department report detailed Venezuela’s use of torture against political dissidents.

However, neither Colina nor Varela were granted U.S. asylum as requested, Archambeault said. Instead, he said they would be placed under supervision requiring weekly telephone calls and monthly meetings with immigration enforcement agents. Either or both of them could be removed to a third country, he said.

Archambeault said the two would be released from Houston, where they are now being held, and planned to fly back to Miami on their own.

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