A right-wing paramilitary warlord considered one of Colombia's biggest drug traffickers was expected to demobilize his troops under a much-criticized peace deal that could allow him to escape the full weight of the law.
More than 400 outlawed fighters from Diego Murillo's "Heroes of Tolova" faction of the United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) have gathered at a remote hamlet in Colombia's northwest ahead of a ceremony yesterday where they were to formally lay down their arms.
Critics say the disarmament process will bring neither peace nor justice and have demanded that Murillo, who is expected to attend the ceremony in La Rusia Ocho, some 450km northwest of Bogota, be put behind bars.
The former head of a team of assassins linked to slain drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's Medellin cocaine cartel, Murillo has been described by the US as "the top leader of one of the world's largest cocaine cartels."
Murillo joined the AUC four years ago, helping him to avoid capture and extradition to the US even though he was seen as more involved in cocaine trafficking than fighting Marxist rebels.
Though funded through drugs and extortion, the paramilitaries have justified their existence as protecting the property of wealthy ranchers and businessmen from the guerrillas in the absence of state authority.
Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert with the Center for International Policy in Washington, said Murillo has "virtually no background" as an AUC member and his participation in the talks exposes the many flaws in the process.
Murillo now stands to benefit from an amnesty bill pushed by President Alvaro Uribe.
The legislation, which is expected to be passed in Congress later this month, would limit prison sentences for AUC leaders to eight years, and does not force them to return the plundered goods or the millions of dollars earned through illegal activities.
The portly, mustachioed Murillo, who also goes by the alias Don Berna, was taken into custody last month on suspicion he ordered the murder of a state congressman and two companions on April 10.
After a nationwide manhunt, Murillo surrendered, but not before the government agreed to certain conditions.
Rather than a regular jail, Murillo is being held under armed guard at a country house in his northwestern fiefdom, where he was seen Tuesday relaxing on the lawn.
Although Murillo only recently became involved with the AUC, he has a long history in Colombia's protracted drug war.
After working for years at Escobar's side, bloody infighting erupted and Murillo became one of Escobar's enemies.
In the best-selling book Killing Pablo, journalist Mark Bowden wrote that Murillo helped US anti-narcotics agents in the hunt for Escobar and met with them often to discuss strategy.