ASUNCION – A suspected Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) member has been arrested on kidnapping and extortion charges, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.
Genaro Meza was detained by police officers belonging to a unit that fights kidnapping, prosecutor Joel Cazal said.
The 61-year-old Meza is related to Magna Maria Meza, a suspected member of the EPP leadership, Cazal said.
Meza was arrested during an operation at a house in Tava Jopoi, a district in the northern province of Canindeyu, the prosecutor said in a press conference.
Investigators are nearly “100 percent sure” that Meza participated in the kidnapping of Mennonite teenager Franz Wiebe, who was abducted by the EPP in July 2016 and released in February, Cazal said.
Meza is almost certainly the person seen in a video made by the guerrilla group to prove that Wiebe was alive and demand that his family deliver $50,000 worth of food to two rural communities as ransom, the prosecutor said.
The 18-year-old Wiebe was released at a location about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Rio Verde, a Mennonite community.
The suspect had a backpack containing anti-government pamphlets, cellular telephones and a planner that was turned over to investigators, Cazal said.
Meza is the uncle of Magna Maria Meza, who is part of the EPP leadership structure that also includes Osvaldo Villalba, Liliana Villalba and Manuel Cristaldo, officials said.
The government said this week that it was offering a reward of up to $180,000 for information leading to the arrest of the four suspected EPP leaders.
Officials are also offering a reward for information leading to the capture of Alejandro Ramos, a former EPP member who is now the leader of the Mariscal Lopez Army (EML), another illegal armed group.
The EPP has been holding police officer Edelio Morinigo since 2014 and Mennonite farmer Abraham Abraham Ferh since 2015.
Authorities blame the EML for the kidnapping of rancher Felix Urbieta, whose family marked his first year in captivity last week.
Mennonites Bernard Blatz and Franz Hiebert were kidnapped between late August and early September, and their whereabouts is unknown, officials said.
No group has claimed responsibility for kidnapping the two Mennonites.
The EPP has committed has killed about 50 people and kidnapped several others since its founding in 2008, officials said.