OAS says up to 3,000 Colombian "paras" are rearmed
New Colombian criminal gangs are taking over cocaine-smuggling networks abandoned by right-wing militias that disbanded after peace talks, the Organization of American States said on Thursday.
"Huge drug trafficking resources are feeding and enriching these new structures," Sergio Caramagna, chief of the OAS monitoring mission in Colombia, said in a local radio interview.
He said there are 22 new criminal organizations with a total of up to 3,000 members, many of whom were paramilitaries who demobilized over the last three years in exchange for reduced jail terms and other benefits.
More than 31,000 "paras" have disarmed under President Alvaro Uribe's U.S.-backed plan for ending Colombia's four-decade-old guerrilla war. But rights groups say Uribe is not doing enough to ensure that paramilitary criminal networks are dismantled and that their victims are compensated.
The government is embroiled in a scandal linking some of Uribe's closest political allies to paramilitary chiefs going on trial for crimes ranging from drug smuggling to massacre to torture.
"These new crime organizations are made up in large part of paramilitaries who supposedly demobilized. They are still being managed by their old paramilitary leaders, who maintain control from jail," said Daniel Coronell, visiting Latin American studies professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
"The demobilization is apparently not a success," said Coronell, a columnist who had to leave Colombia after receiving death threats after reporting on paramilitary activities.
Supporters of the demobilization say there are far fewer paramilitaries now than before the process started.
The militias were born in the 1980s to combat leftist rebels who are still battling the state. Both groups fund themselves with the multibillion-dollar cocaine trade.
Former paramilitary boss Salvatore Mancuso estimated this month that 5,000 of his fighters have taken up arms again, backed by politicians and drug smugglers in what promises to be a "disastrous" turf war over cocaine-producing land.
Colombia's conflict has killed more than 40,000 people, most of them civilians, since 1990, according to the United Nations. Over 3 million people have been forced from their homes by the violence.
[Source: Reuters, Bogota, Col, 22Feb07]
Informes DH en Colombia
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