Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Colombian drug suspect captured after a shootout

'DON HUGO' Eugenio Montoya, believed to be a top member of the Norte del Valle drug cartel, was arrested after a four-hour shootout with the police

AP , BOGOTA

A suspected leader of Colombia's biggest drug cartel was captured following a shootout with police, ending a years-long manhunt in which US authorities had offered a US$5 million reward for his arrest.

Eugenio Montoya, who also goes by the alias "Don Hugo," is believed to be a top member of the Norte del Valle drug cartel, which the FBI lists on its Web site as the "most powerful and violent drug-trafficking organization in Colombia."

"I'm here to resolve my situation. I am not a drug trafficker," were the only words Montoya said as he was presented to journalists on Monday, surrounded by heavily armed police.

Together with his older brother Diego Montoya -- the alleged mastermind of the cartel, which operates near the southern city of Cali -- he is wanted for extradition by a US federal court in Miami for smuggling hundreds of tonnes of cocaine into the US.

US anti-narcotic authorities in Colombia had tracked the two brothers for several years and offered up to a US$5 million reward for their capture.

Eugenio Montoya was arrested in one of the cartel's strongholds, the town of El Dovio, 200km west of the capital of Bogota, as part of a four-hour shootout with police, the judicial police said in a statement. Nobody was injured during the exchange of gunfire.

In a press conference, the head of Colombia's judicial police, General Oscar Naranjo, accused Montoya of leading the armed wing of the cocaine cartel, a band of killers known as "Los Machos."

The Norte del Valle cartel became Colombia's most powerful after the dismantling of the Medellin and Cali cartels in the 1980s and early 1990s. Officials believe it is responsible for as much as 30 percent of the more than 500 tonnes of Colombian cocaine smuggled each year into the US.

To protect its valuable drug routes, the cartel is believed to have worked hand-in-hand with right-wing death squads whose umbrella organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the Washington.

The noose around the cartel has been tightening since last year, when the army killed eight mem-bers of a private army believed to be protecting Diego Montoya.

Diego Montoya, who goes by various aliases including "Don Diego" and the "Lord of the War," has been at war with another of the cartel's leaders for years as both struggle for control of the organization. The conflict has left hundreds and possibly thousands dead across Colombia.

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