Suspected Colombian Drug Lord is captured.

A top drug lord suspect from one of Colombia's most powerful cartels has been captured in a remote part of southern Panama, police said.

Officials arrested Arcangel de Jesus Henao Montoya early Saturday in the southern city of Torti and took him to Panama City, according to Panama's national police chief Carlos Bares.

Others were arrested with Henao Montoya, but it was unclear how many or who.

``This is a significant achievement in the fight against drug trafficking,'' Bares told reporters in the Panamanian capital. ``It was difficult work.''

Henao Montoya is believed to be a top leader of the Norte de Valle drug cartel, which operates out of the southwestern Colombian city of Cali.

In late December, police captured Juan Carlos Montoya, another senior member of the cartel and brother to the alleged leader, Diego Leon Montoya. Both were wanted in the United States.

Bares didn't say whether U.S. or Colombian officials were seeking Henao Montoya's extradition.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaking at a news conference in the Colombian city of Cartagena, said he was very glad to see the increase in arrests of Colombian criminals.

McCain, who was on a two-day trip to Colombia before heading to Brazil, said that Henao Montoya had acted against the interests of U.S. citizens, although he did not say if Henao Montoya was wanted in the United States on drug charges.

Local press reported last January that Diego Leon Montoya, Henao Montoya and two other Norte de Valle kingpins offered to surrender to Colombian authorities in exchange for a promise that they would not be extradited to the United States.

The proposal was relayed to the government by a Roman Catholic bishop and was being studied by the government.

The Colombian government has negotiated past deals with drug kingpins that included promises not to extradite them to the United States. The traffickers, including the late Pablo Escobar, were allowed to live in luxurious Colombian prisons.

Escobar escaped from prison in 1992 and was killed by police the next year. The Cali Cartel took over the world cocaine trade after his death.

With the imprisonment of several Cali drug lords in the mid-1990s, Colombia's drug trade was divided up among various smaller organizations, including the Norte de Valle Cartel.

Henao Montoya's arrest comes a week after authorities arrested Simon Trinidad, a top commander of the nation's largest rebel group, in neighboring Ecuador. The rebel group -- called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC -- uses drug trafficking to help finance its four-decade war against the Colombian government.

Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine and a major supplier of heroin to the United States.

[Source: New York Times by AP Panama City, NY, 11Jan04]

Plan Colombia

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