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Page last updated at 00:23 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 01:23 UK

Colombia captures top drug lord

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Daniel Rendon Herrera is now in the custody of Colombian authorities

Colombian authorities have arrested the country's most wanted drug lord, the government has said.

Daniel Rendon Herrera, known as "Don Mario", was captured early on Wednesday near Necocli in north-western Colombia, officials said.

The government had offered a bounty of up to $2m (£1.3m) for information leading to his arrest.

Colombia is the world's leading cocaine producer. Drug trafficking has fuelled the country's decades-long conflict.

Daniel Rendon is accused of smuggling hundreds of tonnes of cocaine from an area on the Caribbean coast controlled in the 1990s by his brother - a paramilitary leader who is now in prison.

Earlier this year he offered his gunmen almost $1,000 for each police officer they murdered, as security forces closed in on his network.

It doesn't matter what they do or where they are, eventually they will fall
Juan Manuel Santos
Colombian Defence Minister

Defence Minster Juan Manuel Santos said Daniel Rendon could be responsible for huge number of deaths.

"He could be charged with over 3,000 homicides in the course of gaining control over territory to be used in the illicit drug trade," he said.

The minister said Daniel Rendon had been found cowering under a palm tree and had "practically looked like a dog".

It was not immediately clear whether the bounty money had been claimed.

'Bolsters democracy'

Once a paramilitary in a branch of the now-demobilised United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), Daniel Rendon had refused to surrender as part of a peace deal.

DANIEL RENDON HERRERA
Former AUC paramilitary group leader
Brother of jailed paramilitary leader Freddy Herrera
Led up to 1,000 heavily armed men
Operated in northern fiefdom in Antioquia province

Instead he used paramilitary networks to build up a personal army of up to 1,000 heavily-armed fighters, also striking a deal with left-wing Farc rebels, the BBC's Jeremy McDermott reports from the capital, Bogota.

Authorities had been tracking the 43-year-old for months, but he had always managed to stay one step ahead of them until now, he says.

More than 300 anti-narcotics police commandos were reportedly involved in the operation to arrest him, which was led by police chief Gen Oscar Naranjo.

Mr Santos said the arrest sent a message to other drug barons.

"It doesn't matter what they do or where they are, eventually they will fall," he said.

A spokesman for President Alvaro Uribe described it as "good news for the security of all Colombians and bolsters democracy".

Wanted in US

However, our correspondent adds that when authorities have cut off the head of drugs cartels in the past, several more heads have grown, and there could now be a period of bloodletting as other people try to take over.

Map of Colombia

Illegal armed groups are heavily involved in the drugs trade in Colombia, using the profits to fund their activities.

Much of the cocaine produced in Colombia is smuggled into the US through Mexico, where there has been a sharp rise in drug-related violence.

Colombian cocaine is also trafficked to Europe, often through West Africa.

The US is the primary funder of Colombia's anti-drugs programme, Plan Colombia, which began in 2000.

The UN reported a reduction in the amount of coca grown during the early years of the plan, but said coca cultivation rose by 27% in 2007.

In Washington, a senior official told the Associated Press news agency that Daniel Rendon was wanted there on drug trafficking charges and the US would seek his extradition.



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