BOGOTA – A former militiaman accused of participating in the 1995 massacre of seven peasants was arrested by police in a rural area near Remedios, a town in the northwestern province of Antioquia, officials said.
Jesus Albeiro Guisao, who demobilized while a member of the Northern Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, was a key player in the criminal organization of militia chief Evert Veloza, who was extradited to the United States earlier this year.
Guisao faces murder, torture and other charges, the human rights unit of the Attorney General’s Office said.
The former militiaman is accused of taking part in the Sept. 14, 1995, massacre of seven peasants in Antioquia’s Uraba region.
The suspect will be taken to Medellin, the capital of Antioquia, where a prosecutor will advise him of the charges he faces.
Guisao belonged to one of the criminal groups led by Veloza, who confessed in the United States to being involved in some 3,000 drug-related crimes.
Veloza demobilized in 2004, but he later took up arms again.
A recent report in the press said thousands of fighters are once again involved in paramilitary activities in Colombia.
Last week, the Bogota daily El Tiempo, citing an estimate by the National Police, reported that the new militias have at least 4,000 fighters, a large number of them members of the defunct AUC.
Authorities told the newspaper that the Los Rastrojos militia and the Los Paisas, Nueva Generacion, Renacer and Magdalena Medio groups “have nearly 4,000 men” and were responsible for a good deal of the criminal activity in the country.
“According to police, the offensive of the past few months, with more than 200 operations, weakened at least three organizations; only eight identified groups remain,” El Tiempo said.
The independent Fundacion Nuevo Arco Iris, however, has information on 82 criminal organizations in its files that have a presence in 273 cities and could have 10,000 armed men.
Only about 42 percent of the criminal activities of these gangs are related to drug trafficking, Fundacion Nuevo Arco Iris said.
“The other 58 percent has to do with extortion, stealing land and the most serious, common crime in the streets of the big cities,” the foundation said.
Fundacion Nuevo Arco Iris said it determined that the emerging paramilitary groups have a total of 10,000 fighters in their ranks, “of whom 5,000 are demobilized (militiamen) who have returned to crime.”
The AUC, accused of committing numerous human rights violations, demobilized more than 31,000 of its fighters between the end of 2003 and mid-2006 as part of the peace process with President Alvaro Uribe’s administration.
Under the terms of the 2005 Peace and Justice Law, pushed through Congress by the U.S.-backed Uribe administration to regulate the militiamen’s reinsertion into society, former AUC members face a maximum of eight years in prison if convicted of any of the scores of massacres of suspected rebel sympathizers attributed to the rightists over the years.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court upheld the law in 2006 but conditioned the sentence reductions on full disclosure and confession of crimes and reparations to victims.
On May 13, 2008, the Colombian government extradited 14 former AUC chiefs to the United States.
The former AUC commanders were wanted in the United States on drug, money laundering and other charges.
The penetration of the AUC into Colombian politics came to light in November 2006 when the so-called “para-political” scandal broke, and dozens of legislators, the overwhelming majority of them supporters of Uribe, now in his second four-year term, have been implicated.
Since then, more than 60 politicians, including some three dozen members of Congress, have been arrested for their alleged links to the AUC. EFE