Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 10:58 UK

Colombia paramilitary chief held after years in hiding

Colombian police have arrested one of the country's first paramilitary leaders who spent years in hiding.

Police said Hector Jose Buitrago, 71, was detained in a rural area north of Bogota, where he had grown a beard and passed himself off as a cattle rancher.

Mr Buitrago had more than 20 arrest warrants against him for alleged killings and drug-trafficking.

He refused to surrender when more than 30,000 paramilitaries demobilised in 2005 as part of a peace process.

Police said Mr Buitrago's arrest came after reports from informants and several months of surveillance.

"Today he looks like Father Christmas but he has 21 arrest orders out for him for massacres, disappearances, kidnappings, forming paramilitary groups, criminal conspiracy, homicides, anything you want," said Gen Cesar Pinzon, head of Bogota police.

Mr Buitrago founded a paramilitary group in 1978 to fight Marxist rebels who were then kidnapping and extorting local farmers. He later joined a national force, the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC).

The capture of Mr Buitrago, the last of the old school paramilitary leaders, closes a chapter in Colombia's bloody history, says the BBC's Jeremy McDermott who met him in the eastern province of Casanare in 2001.

But new generations of paramilitary groups have sprung up since the AUC demobilised, now dedicated almost exclusively to drug-trafficking, our correspondent says.

Mr Buitrago's son, known by the alias Martin Llanos, is one of Colombia's most-wanted fugitives.

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