Venezuela has said that a retired military general wanted by the United States on drug charges, and arrested four days ago on the Caribbean island of Aruba, is to be freed and will return home shortly.

"A plane is taking off at this moment ... to go and pick up our comrade Hugo Carvajal," Elias Jaua, Venezuela's foreign minister, said on state TV on Sunday, hailing it as "a new victory" for Venezuela.

Carvajal, head of military intelligence from 2004 to 2008 during the presidency of the late Hugo Chavez, was arrested on Wednesday after flying to the semi-autonomous island, whose foreign relations are managed by former colonial power the Netherlands. 

There was no confirmation from the Netherlands about the release. But Jaua said the Dutch government had accepted Venezuela's argument that Carvajal should have diplomatic immunity because he had been nominated as consul to Aruba.

Carvajal's lawyer, Chris Lejuez, speaking to the Reuters news agency by telephone from Aruba, confirmed his client was about to be freed in a case that had threatened a new flare-up in ever-tense relations between Venezuela and the United States.

"We are waiting for him to be released," he said.

The Dutch decision, if confirmed, would overrule a decision on Friday by an Aruba court to reject Carvajal's immunity claim.

Though nominated by Venezuela as consul, he had not yet been ratified in the post, media in Venezuela and Aruba said. Washington wanted him extradited.

The US government put Carvajal on a blacklist in 2008, accusing him of protecting cocaine shipments from seizure by Venezuela anti-narcotics authorities and providing weapons and shelter to Colombia's FARC rebels on the border. He denies those charges.

Source: Reuters