BOGOTA – A former rightist militia chief convicted in absentia for his role in massacres has been arrested in neighboring Panama, Colombian police said Friday.
Armando Alberto Perez Betancourt was detected in Panama by Colombian police, who notified their Panamanian counterparts.
The man in custody was head of the Catatumbo Bloc of the AUC militia federation and spread terror in that northeastern region of Colombia on the Venezuelan border.
Forces commanded by Perez killed at least 5,200 people and buried them in common graves, according to Colombian police, who have been chasing the erstwhile warlord for more than a decade.
Perez has been sentenced to a total of 120 years in jail for his part in the 1999-2000 massacres at Tibu and La Gabarra.
Authorities say Perez directed the military training of thousands of paramilitaries and that he also set up “torture chambers” that paramilitaries in different areas of the country used as a way to show off their power and silence those suspected of collaborating with the guerrillas.
Perez was demobilized in the year 2004 with the Catatumbo Bloc and submitted to the Justice and Peace Law, which facilitated the paramilitaries’ surrender, but later escaped the AUC concentration zone together with other leaders of those squadrons.