Skip to comments.Colombia captures fugitive militia boss
Posted on 04/03/2007 9:17:20 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
BOGOTA, Colombia - Authorities captured a fugitive right-wing warlord Tuesday accused in massacres and of running a murderous criminal band involved in drug trafficking and extortion, officials said.
Ever Veloza, one of the few top paramilitary bosses who fled into hiding rather than embrace a government peace deal, was arrested in the turbulent banana-growing Uraba region on the Caribbean coast, police said.
Better known by his alias "Hernan Hernandez," Veloza once commanded the Banana and Calima blocs of the United Self-Defense Forces, known by its Spanish initials as AUC.
The two blocs are blamed for hundreds of murders of human rights activists, suspected rebel sympathizers and union activists, and Veloza already faces charges in the April 11, 2001, massacre of 26 peasants in the southwestern town of Naya.
Veloza demobilized along with more than 500 fighters in December 2004 but went into hiding last August when paramilitary bosses were asked to turn themselves in and submit to a peace process with President Alvaro Uribe's government.
Under the deal, the warlords many wanted for extradition by the United States on drug-trafficking charges are to serve no more than eight years in prison in return for confessing to all their crimes.
Veloza does not qualify for a reduced sentence because he continued to head an illegal militia and traffic in narcotics, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told reporters.
"He'll be tried as a criminal," Santos said.
A police communique said Veloza formed a 120-man criminal band engaged in extortion and assassination called "The Paisas."
It said he was being charged with murder, terrorism and forcibly displacing people from their land. If convicted, Veloza would face a minimum of 40 years in prison.
Police commander Gen. Daniel Castro said the band had revived cocaine trafficking in the eastern lowland states of Meta and Vichada.
Veloza was captured on a ranch along with four men who were apparently his bodyguards, police said. Seized with them were six rifles, two pistols and about $46,000 in Colombian pesos.
Before demobilizing, Veloza commanded some 1,000 fighters in the banana region and the Cauca Valley in Colombia's southwest.
Colombia's paramilitaries arose in the early 1980s as landowner-funded private armies to protect ranchers and later drug traffickers from kidnapping and extortion by leftist rebels.
Under the peace process begun in 2003, more than 31,000 paramilitary fighters have demobilized. However, thousands continue to terrorize large sections of rural Colombia.
Associated Press Writer Sergio De Leon contributed to this report.