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Colombia extradites paramilitary leaders to US: victims angry

Victims of Colombia's 44-year civil war say they now have less hope of finding out the truth about how their family members disappeared.

By Sibylla BrodzinskyCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 15, 2008

Bogotá, Colombia

Every Wednesday for nearly a decade, dozens of men and women gather at a public plaza in Colombia's second-largest city, Medellín, to demand to know the whereabouts of their loved ones who have disappeared in Colombia's 44-year civil war.

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But this Wednesday, the chance of learning the truth seemed farther away than ever. Fourteen top imprisoned warlords who had long been expected to shed light on how they committed brutal crimes were extradited to the United States Tuesday to face charges of drug trafficking, not murder.

"What was extradited was the truth," says Teresita Gaviria, leader of the group Mothers of La Candelaria that represents the families of more tan 530 victims, including three of her own relatives.

Colombia's surprise extradition of 14 right-wing paramilitary leaders was a bold move to check the expansion of the criminal networks they continued to run from prison, analysts say. But sending them to stand trial in US courts has left the victims of the paramilitary chiefs' more gruesome crimes without hope of truth and reparations.

Colombia's demobilization process

The leaders of right-wing paramilitary groups – anti-insurgent armies that terrorized the countryside for more than a decade and killed anyone suspected of sympathizing with leftist rebels – had demobilized, along with more than 30,000 fighters, as part of a negotiated deal with the government of President Álvaro Uribe.

But in a televised speech Tuesday Mr. Uribe said the paramilitary leaders had violated the conditions of their participation in the country's Justice and Peace process by running their criminal networks from prison and would be sent to the US.

The militia bosses face sentences of about 30 years in the US versus the eight years maximum they would have served under the Justice and Peace law. That is "good news," according to José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

"The bad news is they may no longer have any reason to collaborate with Colombian prosecutors investigating their atrocities against civilians and their collaboration with high-ranking government officials," he says.

Militiamen's ties to politicians

Since 2006, dozens of top and midlevel paramilitary leaders have revealed details of massacres they ordered and the location of thousands of shallow, unmarked graves scattered across the country where their victims were buried. They have also revealed information about their connections to powerful businesses and politicians.