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At least 30 arrested in blow to major drug ring

Updated:
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- In the biggest blow to Colombian drug
trafficking since 1995, authorities arrested 30 people including
Fabio Ochoa, a leader in the once-powerful Medellin cartel, the
national police director announced today.

The suspects were seized Tuesday night and those captured in
Colombia will be extradited to the United States for trial, Gen.
Rosso Jose Serrano told reporters. Most of the suspects were
arrested in Colombia, with others captured in Ecuador, Mexico and
the United States, he said.

"This was an immense operation, an operation you could call
perfect," Serrano told reporters after informing President Andres
Pastrana.

He said Colombian police worked "shoulder-to-shoulder" with
the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and CIA in the yearlong
investigation that began in Houston and Ecuador and tracked the
ring's operations all the way to Europe.

"These people made gigantic shipments of drugs and flooded the
U.S. markets," Serrano told RCN radio, adding that the evidence
against the suspects was gathered "almost completely in the United
States."

The sting was dubbed Operation Millennium and Serrano called it
the most important blow to drug traffickers in Colombia's since the
Cali cocaine cartel's leaders were captured in 1995, ending the era
of huge, vertically organized cartels and splintering the business.

Colombia is the world's leading exporter of cocaine and a
growing source of heroin.

Ochoa, 42, was arrested at his home in Medellin, the country's
No. 2 city, authorities said. Three years ago, he had been released
from prison after serving two-thirds of an 81/2-year sentence for
drug trafficking.

From a well-known ranching and horse-breeding family, Ochoa was
among leaders of the Medellin cartel, whose fall was consummated by
the December 1993 killing by police of cartel boss Pablo Escobar.

"You would have thought that the Ochoas would be careful,
attending to their fortune," Serrano said. Ochoa's two older
brothers, Jorge Luis and Juan David, also served jail time in
Colombia for drug trafficking and were released in 1996.

Other suspects arrested on Tuesday, in Cali and Bogota, were
identified by police as Alejandro Bernal Madrigal, Luis Revellon,
Gonzalo Castiblanco and Elmer Villafane.

U.S. officials in Washington said they would not be able to try
Ochoa under indictments brought in the early 1980s unless Colombia
revises its extradition law.

The new U.S. indictment unsealed in Miami today covers only
crimes committed after Dec. 17, 1997 when Colombia restored
extradition, they said.

Under the new law, Colombia can only extradite its nationals for
crimes committed after that date.

Colombia has not extradited anyone for trial in the United
States since 1990, when it delivered Caribbean coast trafficker
Joaquin Oswald Oswaldo Gallo.

The U.S. officials said they have 12 extradition requests
already pending under the new Colombian law, and no one has yet
been extradited under it.

To pressure Colombian leaders into preventing the extradition of
its leaders to the United States, the Medellin cartel waged a
campaign of bombings and assassinations in the last 1980s and early
1990s that claimed hundreds of lives.

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