Colombian police seize 4.5 tons of cocaine from right-wing warlord
Friday, July 23rd 2004, 7:54 pm
By: News On 6
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Police seized 4 1/2 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $90 million in northwest Colombia on Friday, drugs allegedly belonging to a powerful paramilitary commander who refuses to participate in government-sponsored peace talks, authorities said.
Suspected paramilitary fighters opened fire as police closed in, but later fled into surrounding brush, National Police chief Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro said. No injuries were reported; one suspect was arrested.
Castro said the seizure near the town of Necocli, 300 miles northwest of Bogota, was one of the biggest ever in Colombia.
The drugs allegedly belonged to Jose Alfredo Berrio, also known as ``el Aleman'' or ``The German.'' The right-wing warlord has infuriated the main paramilitary umbrella group known as the United Self-Defense Forces, or AUC, by refusing to participate in a cease-fire and ongoing peace talks with President Alvaro Uribe.
The seizure came a day after the United States charged two top AUC commanders with drug trafficking, charges likely to complicate Uribe's efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the AUC.
Diego Murillo and Vicente Castano, considered among the most brutal AUC leaders, were charged with conspiracy to smuggle tons of cocaine into the United States, according to a federal indictment unsealed in New York on Thursday.
The two are among 10 paramilitary commanders holed up in a government-approved safe haven where they are immune from arrest for the duration of the peace talks.
Berrio remains a fugitive.
The paramilitaries emerged in the 1980s to battle Marxist guerrillas but quickly morphed into a vast cocaine-trafficking organization guilty of human rights abuses. The AUC has tried to cast itself as a legitimate political force that defended the country against the rebels in the absence of state authority.
Elsewhere, Colombian agents with the support of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency discovered a ton of cocaine hidden in an energy plant in the southeastern town of Yumbo, police said in a statement Friday.
Those drugs are believed to belong to Wilber Varela, also known as ``Jabon'' or ``Soap,'' a leader of the Norte del Valle cocaine cartel that supplanted the now-defunct Medellin and Cali cartels. Four suspects were captured during the operation late Thursday, the statement said.
Colombia is the world's biggest producer of cocaine.