Under heavy police escort, one of Colombia's most feared paramilitary warlords was headed to court to address his role in hundreds of murders of civilians during a decade-long reign of terror.
Salvatore Mancuso's court appearance yesterday was to be the first by a top commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), as part of a 2003 peace deal with the government that has led to the demobilization of 31,000 right-wing fighters.
Under the law that codified the peace pact, Mancuso and more than 2,000 militia strongmen must testify before special tribunals about their involvement in massacres, torture and other crimes. Otherwise, they risk forfeiting reduced jail sentences and could instead face extradition to the US on drug trafficking charges.
The tribunals kicked off last week with the testimony of a handful of midlevel paramilitaries, their victims watching on closed-circuit TVs from adjacent courtrooms.
But the appearance by Mancuso, whose violence-scarred fiefdoms encompassed much of northern Colombia, is the most heavily anticipated. Human rights groups have accused the government of being too lenient on Mancuso and other warlords blamed for some of the worst atrocities in Colombia's half century of civil conflict.
The process is a major test for President Alvaro Uribe, who has been dogged by a growing scandal linking several close political allies to the drug-funded AUC, which the US lists as a "foreign terrorist organization."
Already, three pro-government federal lawmakers have been arrested for arming and financing the paramilitaries, and several more, including the brother of Uribe's foreign minister, are under investigation by the Supreme Court.
That number could increase after Mancuso's testimony if he reveals the identities of the AUC's main political backers and beneficiaries.
"We have an opportunity to turn over a new leaf," Vice President Francisco Santos said in an interview last week. "It's going to be traumatic, but the whole truth must come out. We've got nothing to hide."
Mancuso was a national motocross champion and studied English at the University of Pittsburgh in the US before taking up arms in 1995 against leftist rebels who had extorted his fellow cattle ranchers in the state of Cordoba.
Like much of the AUC leadership, Mancuso soon strayed from the group's original aim, immersing himself in Colombia's lucrative cocaine trade -- for which he is wanted for extradition to the US -- and slaughtering enemies, real or imagined, while forcibly displacing peasants from their lands.
Mancuso is believed to have overseen deadly terror campaigns such as a massacre in the northwest hamlet of El Aro, where some 200 armed fighters in October 1997 went on a two-day rampage that left 15 farmers dead.
A court convicted Mancuso in absentia in 2003 and sentenced him to 40 years in prison. Under the terms of the peace deal, he wouldn't serve more than eight years.
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
They stand as eyesores to most passers-by and potential public health risks to authorities, decaying buildings wrapped in tangles of exposed wire, studded with protruding leaky plastic pipes, vegetation billowing from cracks and terraces where particulates from polluted air have accumulated over time. With skyscrapers and ultramodern developments on every side, some of these “nail houses” are also sitting on land worth millions of dollars in Shenzhen’s inferno of a property market, where new-unit and second-hand home prices rival London. In battles over land and development, the nail house phenomenon has become widespread throughout China over the past two decades, with owners
An Italian alpine resort on Friday remained on high alert over fears that a vast chunk of a glacier on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif could plummet in high temperatures. “No one gets through! No cars, bikes or pedestrians,” was the message at a checkpoint where an automatic barrier and two guards blocked the small road snaking up into a lush valley below the Planpincieux glacier, near the town of Courmayeur and the Italian-French border. The blockade has largely been greeted with contempt by the locals, one of whom said: “It’s a joke.” The huge ice block measuring around 500,000 cubic
SHOW OF SOLIDARITY: The publisher’s ‘Apple Daily’ newspaper has had to raise the number of copies printed from 70,000 to 550,000 to meet a huge surge in demand They have occupied Hong Kong’s central business district, marched by the hundreds of thousands through the territory’s streets and endured tear gas and pepper spray in pitched battles with riot police. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters are now wielding a new protest weapon: their stock-market trading accounts. To show support for Jimmy Lai (黎智英), the publisher and outspoken government critic who was on Monday arrested under the territory’s new national security legislation, Hong Kongers have been piling into shares of his media company Next Digital. The result: a more than 1,100 percent surge in two days that propelled the stock to a seven-year