Jeffrey Donaldson has defended meeting leaders of the left-wing FARC paramilitary grouping as part of negotiations to end years of violence in Colombia.
The DUP MP travelled to Cuba last week where he met, among others, the notorious rebel leader Timoleón Jiménez.
Sinn Fein’s Paul Maskey and Mark Durkan of the SDLP also travelled to the Communist state in the Caribbean as part of a peace initiative that began in 2012.
FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) have been engaged in an armed guerilla campaign and terrorist attacks against Colombian government targets since the 1960s.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos shook hands with Jiménez - also known as ‘Timochenko’ - last month following a unilateral ceasefire being observed by FARC.
TUV councillor Timothy Gaston slammed Mr Donaldson’s involvement in the talks.
“Timoleón Jiménez, according to the US State Department in 2011, ‘set the FARC’s cocaine policies directing and controlling (i) the production, manufacture, and distribution of hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States and the world; (ii) the ‘taxation’ of the drug trade in Colombia to raise funds for the FARC; and, (iii) the murder of hundreds of people who violated or interfered with the FARC’s cocaine policies,’ Cllr Gaston said.
The Mid and East Antrim representative added: “Should unionists therefore really be travelling the world with the political representatives of a still armed and active terrorist organisation presenting it as the way forward? The DUP used to rightly criticise Sinn Fein/IRA for fraternising with FARC - now republicans take the DUP with them.”
However, Mr Donaldson said he has been making clear to FARC that terrorism is wrong, and that they must find a way to end the carnage.
“I have been to Colombia and met the victims of FARC terrorism - military, police and civilian - and all of them without exception asked the we used whatever influence we could to help support the peace process in Colombia and bring the violence to an end. What we have been doing is sharing our experience in support of the peace process, So I make no apology for doing what the victims in Colombia have asked me to do.
Mr Donaldson said Cllr Gaston’s party leader Jim Allister was “in the business of dragging Northern Ireland back” in contrast to his own efforts to move our own peace process forward.
“Unlike Jim Allister, I wore a uniform and I fought against terrorism,” he added.