150 Colombian paramilitaries surrender weapons
The members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia's (AUC) Pacific Bloc surrendered their rifles, automatic weapons and handguns Monday in Itsmina, in the central Choco department.
Before Colombia's Peace Commissioner, Luis Carlos Restrepo, and Organization of American States official Sergio Caramanga, AUC political wing leader Ernesto Baez asked the government to take charge of security in the villages vacated by the AUC fighters, which include Itsmina.
"On Saturday," he said, "a permanent police station will be installed in the center of this town."
The government and the AUC opened talks two years ago that have paved the way, so far, for 8,960 of its 20,000 fighters to disarm.
To coax the paramilitaries away from their struggle, the government offers them immunity from prosecution -- except for major crimes -- and from extradition requests from the United States.
Many paramilitary leaders are sought by Washington for drug trafficking and lately there have been accusations that drug traffickers pay their way into the ranks of the AUC in order to benefit from the no extradition clause of the demobilization agreement once they disarm.
Colombia's Minister of Justice and the Interior Sabas Pretelet denied the charges: "Drug traffickers have scored no goals against the demobilization process," he told reporters on Monday.
Colombia has been beset by a 40-year civil war pitting the government against the leftist rebels in a conflict that has claimed more than 200,000 lives. The paramilitary groups joined the fight in the 1980s.
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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 08/24/2005 05:45:08
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