Colombian Paramilitary Leader Quits
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Carlos Castano, the leader of Colombia's top
paramilitary militia, has resigned his post, the outlawed right-wing force said
Wednesday, in a shake-up thought to reflect internal divisions.
The 8,000-strong United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which has repeatedly
massacred villagers it suspects of helping leftist rebels, has been targeted recently by
government strikes. Some top paramilitary leaders have reportedly been calling for
retaliation against the government, opposed by Castano.
The militia, known by its Spanish initials AUC, said in a statement Wednesday
Castano had left the nine-member ruling command council and was reassigned to
manage AUC's political affairs. The announcement ended days of speculation over
Castano's future after a resignation letter was posted on a Web site last week.
Despite the AUC's brutality, Castano has been a charismatic, media-savvy
capable of uniting diverse paramilitary factions under one umbrella. He is seen by
some as a relative moderate within a group that includes more violent and ultra-right
Some fear that if he leaves the leadership of the AUC, the group could
competing factions, heightening the violence and making any possible peace accord
even more difficult.
But in the announcement posted Wednesday on its Web site, the AUC tried
assurances that the move did not mean retaliation against the government,
underlining its ``will to respect the state and its institutions.''
The AUC is a counter-guerrilla force formed by drug traffickers and landowners
combat rebel kidnappings and extortion.
The group, which has operated with support from rogue members of Colombia's
U.S.-backed military, was recently classified a terrorist organization by the U.S.
During federal raids last month in Cordoba State, government agents searched
home of the wife of a top AUC commander and fatally shot the family's driver.
The AUC protested the incident in its statement Wednesday, calling for
investigation, and saying the government must respect human rights in fighting the