According to a Paraguayan bishop, some members of the country’s EPP guerrilla army were involved in Catholic Church-sponsored programs, and may have had remote ties to President Fernando Lugo, himself a former priest.

In an interview with Paraguayan newspaper ABC, Bishop Emeritus Oscar Paez acknowledged that “those who today are in the Peasant Organization of the North [a smaller rebel group] and even in the EPP were people trained by the Church.”

The Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo – EPP) is a small leftist guerrilla group, thought to have fewer than 100 members. It became active under its current name in the last decade.

The bishop took care to distance the church from the rebels’ criminal actions, such as kidnapping and murder.

As the Associated Press reports, Paez’s statements coincide with those made by another church official, San Pedro Bishop Adalberto Martinez. According to Martinez, the church ran a social education seminar in the EPP’s main area of operations in the rural north in the 1990s which was committed to the “reality of the people.”

He said that the effort was an initiative by then bishop and current President Fernando Lugo, and asserted that “several participants in the seminar, according to news reports, seem to be part of the EPP.” The AP claims that this includes Manuel Cristaldo, the EPP’s second in command, who according to intelligence reports served as a deacon for Lugo and assisted him in several masses.

Still, as InSight Crime has reported, President Lugo has made combating the EPP a hallmark of his presidency, perhaps in part to undermine allegations about his links with the extreme left. It is unlikely that his 52.1 percent approval rating will be significantly affected by these allegations.

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