HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Colombia Orders The Arrest Of 19 Politicians
Pubdate: Tue, 15 May 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Kraul, Times Staff Writer


The Current And Former Officials Are Suspected Of Signing A 'Devil's 
Pact' With Paramilitaries

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- The Colombian government ordered the arrest of 19 
current and former officials Monday who are accused of signing a 2001 
"devil's pact" with outlawed paramilitary groups in which they 
promised to work together to "re-found Colombia."

The orders represent the government's biggest move yet to bring to 
justice politicians it alleges were complicit with the right-wing 
militias in Colombia's decades-long civil war. Farmers and 
businessmen formed the militias for self-defense against leftist 
guerrillas in the 1980s, but many of the groups evolved into mafias 
engaged in killings, drug trafficking, extortion, land grabs and 
election fraud.

The document, known as the Treaty of Ralito, came to light this year. 
Prosecutors here have described it as a "devil's pact" that 
candidates signed to obtain political and financial advantage from 
association with the paramilitaries.

Paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso presented a copy of the 
document during court testimony he gave earlier this year.

Some of the officials alleged to have signed have said they were 
forced to do so.

The Colombian government has declared paramilitary armies illegal and 
forbids citizens to have any contact with them. The government 
similarly prohibits any public contact with left-wing guerrilla 
groups, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

"The attendance of these people at this meeting was free, spontaneous 
and conscious. With this meeting, they promoted armed groups that 
were outside the law," said Colombian Atty. Gen. Mario Iguaran in a 
statement issued Monday. He was referring to a meeting in 2001 at 
which the politicians are alleged to have signed the document.

Most rank-and-file paramilitary soldiers have been demobilized in 
recent years, while their leaders are in the process of making 
confessions and disgorging assets as part of a deal to avoid 
extradition and qualify for light sentences for mass murder and other 
crimes. Paramilitary leaders still exert control over many parts of 
Colombia, officials say.

"The government respects and supports justice," President Alvaro 
Uribe said in a statement Monday afternoon. Nevertheless, the 
warrants come at a delicate time in United States-Colombia relations 
as the U.S. Congress considers passing a bilateral free trade 
agreement as well as extending the Plan Colombia aid package to fight 
drugs and terrorism.

Warrants for the arrests of five sitting congressmen were issued by 
the Supreme Court because only the highest court has the power to 
file charges against national legislators. Four of the five are in 
custody, including Sen. Miguel de la Espriella, who first disclosed 
the existence of the document in January.

The others in custody are Sen. Reginaldo Montes, Congressman Jose de 
los Santos Negrete and Sen. Juan Manuel Lopez. Still at large is Sen. 
William Montes. All except Lopez are Uribe supporters.

The other 14 politicians are ex-officeholders who were indicted by 
Colombia's attorney general Monday because they have lost their 
immunity. They include former senators, congressmen, governors and 
mayors. Eleven were in custody as of Monday evening, including 
Eleonora Pineda, who frequently defended paramilitaries as a congresswoman.

Among the paramilitary leaders who signed the 2001 pact were Mancuso; 
Rodrigo Tovar, alias Jorge 40; and Diego Fernando Murillo, known as 
Don Berna. Mancuso and Murillo are wanted on drug-trafficking charges 
in the United States.

Eight sitting members of congress, all Uribe supporters, were 
arrested in November and February on charges of consorting with 
paramilitaries to commit crimes that ranged from electoral fraud to 
mass murder. Among them were the brother and cousin of former Foreign 
Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman