Skip to comments.Colombia warlord strangled to death [Carlos Castano]
Posted on 04/30/2004 9:12:51 PM PDT by HAL9000
BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombian warlord Carlos Castano, whose disappearance has rocked peace talks between the government and far-right paramilitaries, has been strangled to death by former comrades, one of Castano's friends says.
The outlaw Castano, who was political chief of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, or AUC, went missing after a shootout with gunmen commanded by rival AUC chiefs at his hidden ranch in northern Colombia on April 16.
"They caught Commander Carlos alive that very day and they killed him two days later, after they kept him for two days with his hands and legs bound, in his underwear," his friend told Reuters on Friday, saying he had spoken to witnesses.
Military intelligence and state prosecution service officials who have spoken to the friend and colleague of Castano said they believed his report but still had no definitive evidence.
President Alvaro Uribe was cautious.
"What can I say about a Reuters news report? One has to respect all of them. ... The government, faced with this, must be respectful. But I cannot comment," he told reporters.
Proof Castano was killed could be a fatal blow to year-old negotiations the government hoped would lead to the disarmament of 20,000 paramilitary gunmen waging an illegal war against Marxist rebels and trafficking in cocaine.
Government officials fear the loss of Castano would fracture the AUC and make talks impossible.
Castano aides said rival AUC members heavily involved in cocaine trafficking had attacked him because he was planning to give information about their activities to U.S. authorities.
But other senior commanders from the group said Castano's guards had mistakenly opened fire on their own comrades and he ran away in the confusion.
If he is dead, it was a violent end to a violent life for a man who personally admitted to dozens of killings and forged links between his militia and Colombia's armed forces in a bloody war of revenge against Marxist rebels.
COCAINE TRAFFICKERS SUSPECTED
The negotiations, central to Uribe's hopes of pacifying a country locked in a 40-year guerrilla war, had already run into trouble due to the paramilitaries' refusal to serve jail sentences or be extradited for their crimes.
Castano's friend, as well as intelligence and prosecution officials, blamed his killing on AUC political commander Salvatore Mancuso and another AUC chief, Diego Murillo, also known as "Don Berna."
U.S. officials say Murillo is one of Colombia's biggest cocaine traffickers, and also accuse Mancuso of smuggling.
On Thursday, Mancuso denied he was a drug trafficker on local television. He said he did not know where Castano was and wanted peace talks to continue.
Castano's friend said Don Berna sent the warlord's own brother, Vicente, and a paramilitary known as "18" to kill him. "That damned 18 strangled him with his own hands," he said.
Castano's aides said he was hoping to bargain reduced jail time in the United States -- which wanted him for cocaine smuggling -- in return for information.
U.S. officials deny they were in contact with the gruff-voiced Castano, who had become something of a media star in Colombia in recent years, making television appearances from hidden locations as he tried to make the AUC politically respectable.
Together with his late brother Fidel, Castano founded what later became the AUC after Marxist guerrillas kidnapped and killed their father, a poor farmer, in the early 1980s.
Often working in cooperation with renegade sectors of the army, they killed thousands of people they suspected of collaborating with the rebels, mainly peasants, and became notorious for their methods, which even included chainsaws.
Ya don't say? Never would I guessed that!