By LIBARDO CARDONA
CALI, Colombia (AP) - Sigifredo Lopez personally paid the cost of Colombia's bloody civil war when he was kidnapped by rebels along with 11 other legislators, held captive for seven years and became famous as the lone survivor of a notorious massacre of his captive colleagues.
His stunning arrest this year made him a symbol of something else as well: the murky nature of Colombia's long civil conflict.
Prosecutors alleged that far from being a victim, Lopez was actually in cahoots with the rebels who seized the lawmakers. The former hostage found himself a prisoner again.
"They painted me as the worst criminal in the history of humanity," Lopez said in an interview with The Associated Press at his home in Cali.
Now 48 and with thick, graying hair, the heavyset lawyer lives with his high school sweetheart, also an attorney, in a middle-class house. He apparently practices little law these days, but ran for the national Senate in 2010 and for mayor of Cali in 2011, losing both times.
Lopez has frequently recounted his ordeal as a rebel hostage to investigators and others, so he didn't think much about the phone call from prosecutors summoning him to their office on May 16.
But he was floored by what they had to say: "Sir, you are under arrest."
"I thought it was a joke," Lopez said.
Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, staged a dramatic raid on the provincial legislature in 2002 and grabbed 12 little-known lawmakers, including Lopez.
He was a member of the center-left Liberal Party, but the rebels apparently gave no thought to his politics. He and his companions were among at least 50 military officers, police and politicians taken captive between 1997 and 2002. They made up a group that the FARC called the "exchangeables"_ hostages it wanted to swap for imprisoned rebels. Successive Colombian governments, however, rejected that idea.
Eleven of the legislators were executed five years later in a confused incident when their rebel captors mistook another guerrilla unit for a government rescue force and carried out standing orders to kill their hostages in the event of such an attempt. Lopez was the only survivor. He was freed by the FARC in 2009 and returned to Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca.
Since Lopez was released, his story has not wavered: He survived the 2007 executions because on that day the rebels were punishing him by keeping him 50 meters, or about 50 yards, away from the others, separated by a wall of palm leaves.
Lopez said he heard the gunshots but other rebels quickly spirited him away. He said he finally learned of his companions' massacre two weeks later from the guerrillas and radio broadcasts.
For a long time, nobody had cause to doubt him.
That changed after a military operation killed FARC maximum leader Alfonso Cano in November 2011 and troops recovered his laptop, which contained videos and numerous documents on FARC's operations.
In one of those videos, a man's voice can be heard explaining in front of a map of the Valle del Cauca legislature how the 2002 kidnapping raid would be done. Suddenly the speaker shifts position, offering a brief glimpse of his profile.
Prosecutors alleged that the man was Sigifredo Lopez, and arrested him on suspicion of murder, kidnapping, perfidy and rebellion. Besides the video, prosecutors said four former FARC guerrillas had given testimony implicating Lopez, according to a copy of his arrest order.
No motive was offered, leading to speculation that Lopez could have plotted with the rebels and then been betrayed when they kidnapped him as well.
Colombians were aghast. It seemed unthinkable that a man who himself was held captive for nearly seven years could have betrayed his own, and some people, including Colombia's interior minister and relatives of the slain legislators, expressed hope that somehow it was all a terrible mistake.
"Judas?" Colombia's leading weekly newsmagazine asked on its cover.
Another former hostage, Gov. Alan Jara of the southern province of Meta, said he felt "absolute disbelief" when the allegations surfaced, though he never met Lopez because they were held in distinct parts of the country.
"It's two different hells," Jara said. "And who knows know which is worse: the kidnapping, or being imprisoned for something he didn't commit."
After his arrest, Lopez was taken to the capital, Bogota. Behind bars, he was suddenly reliving a nightmare of captivity that he thought was over. Even worse, he was suspected of complicity in the death of his fellow captives.
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