Pubdate: Fri, 28 Sep 2001
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Giles Tremlett


Spain has called in Colombian police officers to help curb an outbreak of 
violence in Madrid after seven people were killed in eight days, in street 
shoot-outs and revenge attacks among international drug traffickers. The 
Colombian police, hardened by years of war between cocaine cartels in their 
country, were drafted in after the latest gun battle, which saw three 
people killed and one injured on Tuesday night.

All the victims were young Colombian men. One of them, a 25-year-old from 
the cocaine capital of Medellin, had only been in Spain for two weeks.

Police said they believed the gun battle was between two gangs of 
Colombians who were fighting for control of a share of the drug trade in 

The two groups had met for talks in a telephone bureau when they started 
arguing and threatening each other.

Witnesses said the shoot-out was like a Hollywood film. "They were running 
down either side of the street, taking shots at one another across the 
traffic," said a neighbour who saw one of the victims gunned down. "It 
sounded like the wild west," said another.

Police found 25 spent cartridges at the scene.

The gun battle came only seven days after another three Colombians were 
killed in a Madrid apartment. The victims were all shot once in the head, 
in what appeared to have been a cold-blooded, professional execution.

Seven other Colombians have been murdered so far this year in the Spanish 
capital, leading to concern that the wars fought so ruthlessly in Medellin, 
Bogota and Cali have now come to Madrid.

Other cities, such as Barcelona, have also had an increase in the number of 
murdered Colombians.

"The Colombian criminals attach little value to life and bring their 
attitudes with them," Juan Cotino, Spain's director general of police, said 
after Tuesday's deaths.

A number of Colombian police officers will travel to Madrid from Bogota, 
police sources said. Among other things, they will be used to identify 
professional Colombian hit men who enter Spain and stay just long enough to 
carry out a contract killing.

"They have money, false documents and extremely cold blood," one police 
source said yesterday.

The killings have led to renewed calls for stricter controls on Colombians 
entering Spain. They coincide with a sharp rise in the number of legal 
Colombian immigrants who have come to Spain looking for work and escape 
from the violence in their country. Immigrants' groups estimate that there 
are 60,000 Colombians here.

Spain has long been seen as the main entry point for cocaine in Europe - 
although this has normally been distributed by Spanish groups based in the 
north-western region of Galicia. Police said there was no evidence that 
Colombians played a greater part in the distribution.

All the other countries in Europe's Schengen zone - those states that 
agreed to abolish border controls - now require Colombians to obtain visas. 
But Spain has refused to apply similar measures, saying they would 
contravene a 60-year-old treaty with Colombia that allows visits to either 
country of up to three months without a visa.

When the Spanish government of Jose Maria Aznar threatened to introduce 
restrictions earlier this year it provoked the ire of the Nobel 
prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez and a group of Colombian 
intellectuals, who said they would never set foot in the country again.

Spanish officials, however, expect visa restrictions to be introduced soon.
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