Holiday's over for the Colombian 'paras'

18 December 2006 by Christopher Marlowe

Fearing an escape attempt, the Colombian government transferred 59 paramilitary leaders from their detention center at a former holiday camp and brought them to trial. The warlords first appeared in court on December 14-15, in Barranquilla and in Medellin. On December 1st, these 'paras' had frantically phoned radio stations to tell of a massive build up of troops and helicopters circling the detention center where they were being held. Hundreds of heavily-armed soldiers forcibly moved them from their comfortable center in La Ceja to the Itagui maximum security prison in Medellin. One week later, they broke off talks with the government. On November 15, a few journalists were allowed to visit the 'paras' in La Ceja. Among them was a correspondent with IJT.

When the Colombian government announced in early 2006 that the paramilitary leaders would be housed in the La Ceja camp as they awaited their trials as part of a peace process, many in this country saw it as yet more evidence that the accord was too lenient. Created in the 1980s by drugtraffickers and landowners to act as an illegal militia to combat Marxist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the paramilitary militia quickly grew with the help of people in the military and in political and business circles. As the group, known by its acronym AUC, expanded across the country, it committed some of the worst crimes in a brutal civil war that has killed more than 40,000 Colombians, mostly civilians, since 1964.

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