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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 03:50 GMT
Colombian militia hands in arms
By Jeremy McDermott
BBC correspondent in Colombia

AUC fighters
The AUC has a northern "safe zone" where they are immune from arrest
Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries have begun to demobilise a large chunk of their illegal army.

The 280 fighters of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the banana-producing region of Antioquia turned in their arms.

The AUC has promised to turn in 3,000 fighters with weapons before the end of the year to boost the peace process with the government.

However, a lasting peace agreement seems no closer.


The government has still not managed to get any kind of amnesty bill through Congress, leaving the judicial status of those demobilising uncertain.

Colombia is under great pressure to ensure that the drug-traffickers within the paramilitary ranks do not get off and that crimes against humanity, of which the AUC are guilty, do not go unpunished.

The fear is that this demobilisation is little more than a show as, flush with hundreds of millions of dollars from drugs trafficking, the AUC continues to recruit men for its 20,000-strong army.

Some observers believe the paramilitary leaders will not really give up their power until they are protected from long prison sentences in Colombia and more importantly, extradition to the United States.

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