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September 30, 2005 - CNN Drug suspect may avoid extradition U.S. condemns offer
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- One of Colombia's most notorious suspected drug traffickers who allegedly masterminded the smuggling of tons of cocaine into the United States may never see the inside of a U.S. prison, much less a courtroom.
Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe said Thursday that paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo can avoid extradition to the United States if he quits committing crimes and complies with a peace accord between the Colombian government and the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.
U.S. Ambassador William Wood condemned the move, saying that shielding drug-traffickers and paramilitary leaders from extradition must not be part of any peace deal. Wood insisted that Uribe extradite Murillo, who uses the aliases Don Berna and Adolfo Paz.
On Friday, Uribe ordered that Murillo be transferred from a country house in northwest Colombia, where he was under police guard, to Combita maximum security prison north of Bogota, the capital. Wood applauded the move as "an important and courageous step."
Despite the rare tiff between the two allies, it appeared relations between Colombia and the United States would not be affected in the long run.
"We anticipate that our excellent bilateral cooperation on law enforcement matters will continue," a U.S. official said, noting that 274 Colombians and 11 people of other nationalities have been extradited from Colombia to the United States since Uribe became president three years ago.
For David N. Kelley, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, it looked increasingly like this will be a case of justice denied.
In a June 9 statement announcing the extradition request, Kelley said Murillo headed the AUC's "narcotics-trafficking activities, including all of its cocaine transportation and financial operations."
"We look forward to bringing to justice this top leader of one of the worlds largest cocaine cartels," Kelley said at the time.
There was no immediate reaction from Kelley's office on Thursday's turn of events, but one analyst said he was surprised that the United States, which has spent almost $4 billion (euro 3.3 billion) on the war on drugs in Colombia in the past five years, is not taking a tougher line against Uribe's refusal to extradite Murillo.
"It's a big credibility issue for the drug war, more than anything, because there is a big contingent of people in Congress and the (Bush) administration who have taken a hard line against drug trafficking," said Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert with the Center for International Policy in Washington. "It's very odd and hurts their credibility if these same elements in Congress and the administration remain silent on this and just let it slide."
Murillo is the alleged former head of a team of assassins linked to Pablo Escobar, the leader of the now defunct Medellin cocaine cartel who was shot dead by police in December 1993. The Medellin cartel waged a bloody terrorist campaign of bombings and assassinations in the 1980's to avoid being extradited to the United States.
The paramilitary peace process has been widely criticized for allowing the right-wing militia leaders to keep their booty and drug profits while facing little jail time. Uribe has staunchly defended the process, saying an element in Colombia's four-decade-old conflict is being removed from the war.
Some 11,000 AUC fighters have laid down their arms in exchange for a government amnesty over the past two years.
The paramilitary factions were created by wealthy ranchers and cocaine traffickers in the 1980's to battle the rebels. Two leftist rebel armies -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army -- have declined to enter into peace talks with the government .
More than 3,000 people are killed in the conflict every year.