The US government on Wednesday charged 50 leaders of Colombia's main left-wing rebel group with smuggling "devastating amounts" of cocaine into the US and reaping billions of dollars from global drug trafficking.
"This is the largest narcotics trafficking indictment ever filed in US history, and fuels our hope to reduce narco violence in Colombia and stem the tide of illegal drugs entering our country," US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters here in announcing the charges.
The charges said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is behind 50 percent of the world's cocaine trade and 60 percent of the cocaine trafficked into the US.
Gonzales said the US government will seek the immediate extradition of three of the charged FARC leaders currently in custody in Colombia: Jorge Enrique Rodriguez Mendieta, Erminso Cuevas Cabrera and Juan Jose Martinez Vega.
In Bogota, Defense Minister Camilo Ospina said of those charged: "Some of them are detained, the majority of them are fugitives, but we will do what it takes to carry out those extradition requests."
Gonzales said the remaining 47 suspects are at large, "hiding in the remote reaches of Colombia," and he announced a program providing more than US$75 million in rewards for information leading to their capture.
According to the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, Anne Patterson, rewards of up to US$5 million each will be awarded for information leading to the arrest or conviction of seven "secretariat leaders" of the FARC, and rewards of up to US$2.5 million will be available for 17 other key FARC operatives.
"This indictment is a product of unprecedented cooperation between our nations," Gonzales said, praising the work of Colombian law enforcement agents as well as officials from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and US immigration and customs agents.
"The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is one of the Justice Department's highest-priority targets in our fight against illegal drug trafficking," he said.
Gonzales said that in addition to importing more than US$25 billion worth of cocaine into the US and other countries, the FARC has also shot, stabbed or dismembered alive farmers who did not comply with the group and kidnapped and murdered Colombian and US nationals.
The group is also accused of shooting down fumigation planes.
Former Colombian president Andres Pastrana, Bogota's ambassador to Washington, vowed that Colombia would continue to work with the US and other nations to combat drug trafficking.
But he said: "To win the war on drugs, to raise our children safe, we must fight not only against the production of narcotics in countries such as Colombia, but against the demand for drugs in Europe and the US, where millions of consumers live."