Tue, Jul 31, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Colombian warlords promise to resume court confessions

AP , BOGOTA

Colombia's peace process with far-right paramilitaries edged back from the brink of collapse after jailed warlords vowed to resume confessing their crimes to special prosecutors.

Sunday's reversal came six days after leaders of the paramilitary umbrella group known as the AUC, from its initials in Spanish, halted testimonies in protest of a Supreme Court ruling disavowing the 2003 peace pact that led 31,000 right-wing irregulars to disarm.

AUC spokesman Antonio Lopez said from the western city of Medellin that the paramilitaries will rejoin the process to demonstrate their "unflinching commitment" to the country.

no amnesty

On July 11, the Supreme Court ruled the AUC was a criminal -- not a political -- organization and right-wing fighters were not entitled to amnesty.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe scrambled to woo back the paramilitaries, accusing the high court of having an "ideological slant" -- a move interpreted by political observers as a dangerous encroachment on the independence of the judicial branch.

Circumventing the ruling, he introduced legislation that would grant paramilitaries the legal status of subversives, putting them on the same playing field as leftist rebels who have been battling to topple the state for almost a half-century.

"Looking at a cadaver that has been tortured and mutilated, I don't understand what difference it makes to say the assassin was a guerrilla or a paramilitary," Uribe said on Friday. "The impact on the victim, a family and society is the same."

anger

The proposed legislation angered the militias' victims, who say the government is being too lenient toward fighters accused of some of the conflict's worst atrocities -- hundreds of massacres, widespread extortion and the theft of millions of hectares of land.

Under the Justice and Peace law governing the peace process, paramilitaries must confess their crimes and hand over illegally obtained assets to compensate the 70,000 victims who have so far come forward with reparation claims. In exchange, they are entitled to maximum jail sentences of eight years and protection from extradition to the US.

But the warlords have surrendered only a sliver of their vast fortunes and confessed to only a few crimes -- most of which have already been well-documented by prosecutors.

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