Sat | Sep 26, 2020

Warlord’s release from US prison ups tension with Colombia

Published:Wednesday | August 12, 2020 | 3:42 PM
In this May 13, 2008 file photo, Colombian paramilitary warlord Salvatore Mancuso is escorted by US DEA agents upon his arrival to Opa-locka, Florida. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

MIAMI (AP) — A last-minute battle is unfolding over the fate of a former paramilitary warlord who the Colombian government wants returned following a long drug sentence in US prison.

Salvatore Mancuso, the top commander of a since-disbanded group of right-wing militias, completed a 12-year cocaine trafficking sentence in March.

He remains in US custody as Colombia - where courts have judged him responsible for more than 1,500 acts of murder or forced disappearance - fights a US order that would send him to Italy, where he also has citizenship.

Mancuso’s lawyers contend he would be killed if he returns to a South American country that has struggled to heal from decades of bloody conflict.

They argue he has already fulfilled his obligations under a 2003 peace deal he negotiated, which caps prison terms at eight years for paramilitary bosses who confess their crimes.

The many victims Mancuso left behind say at stake is the justice that has long been denied them. Colombian officials also complain that denying their request that Mancusco be deported back home would be a high-profile snub to a staunch ally that suffered a decades-long civil conflict that left 260,000 dead and millions more displaced.

The carnage was made worse by US demand for Colombian cocaine, which funded illegal armed groups including Mancuso’s United Defense Forces of Colombia, known as AUC.

Successive conservative governments have sent several thousand Colombians to face drug trafficking charges in the US.

Mancuso is among the highest-profile, having directed the manufacture and shipment of more than 138,000 kilogrammes of cocaine, according to his US plea agreement.

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