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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 November 2006, 10:25 GMT
Colombia politician probe widens
United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC)
The paramilitaries are engaged in the peace process
A Colombian court has widened an inquiry into alleged ties between a group of politicians and right-wing paramilitaries.

A day after ordering the arrest of three congressmen, the Supreme Court has now ordered an investigation of five of their political associates.

All eight are from the department of Sucre - a paramilitary stronghold.

The Sucre affair could become Colombia's biggest political scandal in recent years, correspondents say.

The developing investigation follows the seizure by police of a laptop computer belonging to the right-hand man of one of the leaders of the right-wing United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC).

The AUC is accused of drug-trafficking, extortion and the massacre of civilians.

Authorities found detailed accounts of the AUC's activities along Colombia's Caribbean coast and its alleged dealings with local politicians.

Charges denied

On Thursday, the court ordered the arrest of two senators, Alvaro Garcia and Jairo Merlano, and a congressman Erik Morris.

They are facing charges of supporting the creation of paramilitary groups in Sucre to help landowners combat left-wing guerrillas.

Mr Garcia is also accused of murder for his role in "organising, promoting, arming and financing" paramilitaries and in connection with a massacre six years ago which saw 20 people killed.

All three, who remain at large, have denied the charges.

The court has now ordered the investigation of five other prominent figures from Sucre:

  • Salvador Arana - a former governor of Sucre and ex-ambassador to Chile
  • Angel Daniel Villarreal - former mayor of Sucre
  • Miguel Nule Amin - former governor of Sucre
  • Jose Joaquin Garcia - businessman
  • Octavio Otero

The paramilitaries were created by landowners and drug-traffickers to combat left-wing rebels and anyone suspected of being their sympathiser.

The AUC is currently engaged in a peace process with the government.

This has led to more than 33,000 fighters surrendering their weapons.

Most AUC leaders are now in jail awaiting trials in which they face a maximum of eight years in prison under the terms of the peace process.


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