Ex-Paramilitary Boss Back in Colombia After Serving 16-year Jail Term in US

Wed Feb 28 2024
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BOGOTÁ, Colombia: The former head of Colombia’s feared militant group returned home Tuesday after serving a 16-year prison sentence in the United States to join the country’s ongoing peace process with armed groups, immigration officials said.

Salvatore Mancuso, 59, who was serving time for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine, walked off the plane smiling in handcuffs and a bulletproof vest.

Colombian immigration officials announced on social media that Mancuso arrived on a “deportation flight” and was handed over to police.

Last year, leftist President Gustavo Petro requested his extradition after serving his sentence so he could serve as a “peace officer” in government negotiations with various armed groups in South America.

Fernando Garcia, director of Colombian immigration, welcomed Mancuso “on the basis of peace, reconciliation and a determination not to repeat crimes,” according to a post on X.

“Mancuso accepted his appointment as peace manager within the National Government’s #TotalPeace programme, which includes reconciliation with all actors in the conflict, and humanitarian work.”

Mancuso, a Colombian-Italian, was the leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which surrendered its weapons in 2006, admitted its crimes and agreed to compensate victims.

He still has to answer to Colombia’s justice system for hundreds of disappearances and murders committed by the AUC, an offshoot of the right-wing militia that fought leftist guerrillas.

His lawyer said he is being held in a police facility. However, at Petro’s request, he was released and is likely to be employed in the peace process, which has yet to be finalized.

Since his election in 2022, Petro has sought to end six decades of conflict with security forces, guerrillas, right-wing militias and drug cartels.

Since last year, Mancuso has been working with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which was created after a 2016 peace deal between the government and the once-powerful FARC rebel group, to investigate the worst crimes committed during the conflict.

“I make myself available to both the national government and the armed organizations that seek dialogue with it… to accompany the peace talks that are necessary, no matter how complex they may be,” Mancuso said in a statement appeared in local media.

He was extradited to the United States in 2008 by former right-wing president Alvaro Uribe, who led a relentless military campaign against leftist rebels and drug cartels.

From prison, Mancuso threatened to expose connections between militias, politicians and businessmen. In particular, it accused Mr. Uribe of involvement in a 1997 militia massacre. The former leader denied any involvement in it.


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