Ex-Colombian intel chief arrested in "para" probe

Colombia's former intelligence chief was arrested on Thursday on charges of helping right-wing militias murder labor leaders, part of a deepening scandal touching President Alvaro Uribe's closest political allies.

Jorge Noguera was taken into custody after being questioned about accusations that he provided paramilitary leaders with names of union leaders and human rights workers later used as a hit list.

Eight members of Uribe's congressional coalition have been jailed for financing and otherwise supporting drug-running paramilitaries responsible for some of the worst atrocities of this Andean country's 4-decade-old guerrilla war.

A ninth lawmaker is a fugitive. Earlier this week, the scandal claimed Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo, who resigned after her brother, a senator, was arrested.

Noguera was head of Colombia's Administrative Security Department, or DAS, beginning in 2002, the start of Uribe's first term, until 2005, when he was appointed by the president as Colombia's consul in Milan.

"This arrest is the hardest blow yet against the government and it will reverberate all the way to Uribe," said Ramiro Bejarano, an opposition columnist who headed the DAS in the 1990s.

The paramilitaries were organized in the 1980s to help landowners fight off leftist rebels. Both sides, branded terrorists by Washington, have grown rich on Colombia's multibillion-dollar cocaine trade.

Paramilitary bosses had long boasted of their influence in Colombia's Congress and government. But not until the arrests started in November did prosecutors bring charges against officials suspected of colluding with the militias.

[Source: Reuters, Bogota, Col, 22Feb07]

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