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Colombia in extradition quandary over lawmaker arrested in Venezuela

Colombia said it would seek the extradition of a fugitive former lawmaker through a request to Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognized by more than 50 countries as interim president (AFP Photo/Dave Chan)

Bogota (AFP) - Colombia said Tuesday it would seek the extradition of a fugitive former lawmaker arrested in Venezuela, though its refusal to recognize the government of President Nicolas Maduro presents a legal conundrum.

Maduro responded by calling the extradition request ridiculous and the country's attorney general, Tarek William Saab, announced that the former congresswoman, Aida Merlano, would remain under arrest.

Merlano was detained by Venezuelan security forces in the northwestern city of Maracaibo after illegally crossing into Venezuela, police there said on Monday.

She was serving a 15-year prison sentence for vote buying when she staged a spectacular escape in October after giving her guards the slip while visiting a dentist.

"When the competent judge requests the extradition of Mrs Aida Merlano, the national government will make the request before the legitimate government of Venezuela, headed by Juan Guaido," a Colombian government statement said.

President Ivan Duque's right-wing administration is one of more than 50 countries to recognize Guaido as interim president.

Venezuela broke off relations with Bogota in February 2019 after Guaido's failed attempt to breach a border blockade and bring US food and medical aid into the country through Colombia.

"I ask permission not to laugh. A real ridiculousness," Maduro said, during a meeting with ministers and governors broadcast on state TV.

Maduro remains in control of all state institutions in Venezuela, with the exception of the opposition-dominated but sidelined National Assembly, which is led by Guaido.

The real legislative power in the country lies with the Maduro-controlled Constituent Assembly.

During a visit to a medical center in Bogota to see a dentist on October 1, Merlano managed to slip away from her escorts, climb out a window, and slide down a rope, landing on the sidewalk in front of surprised passersby before calmly escaping on the back of a waiting motorcycle.

A video of her daring escape shot by a nearby security camera went viral on social media.