Page last updated at 00:45 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Colombia warlord extradited to US


Colombia extradites right-wing militia leader Ever Veloza to the US

Colombia has extradited a right-wing militia leader to the US on drug charges, despite an outcry from victims' groups and rights activists.

Ever Veloza had co-operated freely with prosecutors, leading them to unmarked graves and admitting dozens of murders.

His testimony had alleged high-level collusion between paramilitaries, politicians and the security forces.

Rights groups say his extradition should have been delayed and could leave dozens of cases unsolved.

Knew too much?

US officials have promised to give Colombian prosecutors unfettered access to Veloza.

I think he was able to confess to about 50% of his crimes
Nubia Chavez

But Ivan Cepeda, of the National Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State, said there was no reason for the extradition to go ahead so quickly.

"We didn't ask that he not be extradited, just that it be delayed until he could confess to everything."

Prosecutor Nubia Chavez told the Associated Press news agency that Veloza had acknowledged 480 murders by fighters under his command, but she said hundreds of others remain unsolved.

"I think he was able to confess to about 50% of his crimes," she said.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia says victims' groups believe he was extradited because he knew too much about senior figures who were involved with the paramilitaries.

Highly sensitive

Veloza was a commander with the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) - one of several right-wing paramilitary groups formed in the 1980s.

They were backed by drug traffickers and wealthy ranchers, who paid them to fight off left-wing guerrillas - particularly the Farc, who were the AUC's fiercest enemies.

The militias evolved into private armies and are thought to have killed thousands of people.

Unlike most of his comrades, Veloza gave his full co-operation to prosecutors - and his evidence proved to be highly sensitive.

Among those he accused of collusion was a retired army officer - Gen Rito Alejo del Rio - who was a close associate of President Alvaro Uribe and is now facing murder charges.

Mr Uribe's government has extradited more than 800 suspects to the US since he came to power in 2002 - most of them on drug-trafficking charges.

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