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International Relations & Security Network (ISN), Oct. 7, 2005
by Carmen Gentile, Senior International Correspondent
ISN SECURITY WATCH (07/10/05) - The Colombian government on Friday reaffirmed its commitment against extraditing a notorious paramilitary to the US to face drug-trafficking charges in hopes of returning an armed right-wing group back to the negotiating table for disarmament talks.
Just a day before, leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) said they were pulling out of the talks after Bogota decided to transfer Diego Fernando Murillo, otherwise known as Don Berna, from house arrest to prison.
The move was seen as a likely step toward sending Murillo to the United States, where he is wanted on drug-trafficking charges. The AUC uses its drug revenue to fund its ongoing battle with Colombia's left-wing rebel groups.
However last month President Alvaro Uribe stated publicly Murillo would remain in Colombia. And on Friday, his administration reiterated its commitment to keeping Murillo at home.
That commitment comes via the Colombian government's "Peace and Justice Law": a controversial decision to allow paramilitaries to disarm with no repercussions or brief terms of imprisonment for some of its leaders.
"The legal assurance of the Peace and Justice Law benefit those who take refuge in it and its fulfillment generates credibility in the international and national community," said Colombian presidential spokesman Ricardo Galan.
Friday's announcement by the Colombian government appeared to be a stopgap measure to prevent years of disarmament talks with the AUC from going to waste.
On Thursday, AUC leaders voiced their criticism of the Uribe administration over its handling of Murillo, saying talks would have to be put on hold until the government could restore AUC's "confidence" in the disarmament process.
"The demobilization timetable is suspended as of now until the government makes the rules of the game clear and offers the necessary guarantees to restore confidence," said Ivan Roberto Duque, the AUC's political head.
The AUC is scheduled to complete the disarmament process by the end of the year, the culmination of two years of talks.
So far, some 11,000 AUC fighters have laid down their arms. The government hopes that by the end of 2005, all 19,000 estimated paramilitaries will have disarmed.
The disarmament program, while heralded by Bogota as a giant step toward bringing peace to Colombia, has been questioned by some who say paramilitaries accused of war crimes and human rights violations are being let off easy in exchange for the promise of forsaking their armed struggle.
"There is a danger that a partial demobilization could occur in a way that fails to dismantle fully the paramilitary structures," said the International Crisis Group in a recent report on Colombia's rebel vs. paramilitary struggle.
The report goes on to note that "despite agreeing to a ceasefire in December 2002, the AUC has subsequently killed more than 2,000 people".
Others have expressed even deeper skepticism of the paramilitary disarmament process, saying it allows the commanders an opportunity to enter into the ranks of society with their vast drug-trafficking wealth intact and with impunity from prosecution.
"The government's failure to conduct the demobilizations in a serious manner is helping paramilitary commanders launder their wealth and legitimize their political power," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director for Human Rights Watch. "Having interviewed numerous demobilized paramilitaries, government officials, and other insiders, it is evident this process is rotten to the core."