December 2, 2001

Rebel leader admits 1990 assassination

                 BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- The feared leader of a rightist paramilitary army
                 in Colombia confessed in a book to be released this week that he was
                 responsible for the 1990 assassination of a charismatic presidential

                 Carlos Castano -- political chief of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or
                 AUC -- said the killing of leftist guerrilla commander turned presidential candidate
                 Carlos Pizarro was a "true patriotic act."

                 "If history repeated itself and the circumstances were the same, I would act the same way," said
                 Castano, in a book excerpt published Sunday in the Colombian newsmagazine Semana.

                 The book -- "My Confession," by Black Sheep
                 Editorial -- is the product of weeks of interviews journalist Mauricio Aranguren had
                 with Castano, reported Semana.

                 Castano said he trained the assassin who on April 26, 1990, boarded a crowded
                 jetliner and shot and killed the 38-year-old candidate some ten minutes after the
                 plane departed Bogota, the capital.

                 The gunman was killed when one of Pizarro's bodyguards returned fire.

                 Pizarro, the son of a navy admiral, became commander of the 900-strong M-19
                 guerrilla group in 1986. Under his command, the group disarmed four-years later
                 and joined the political process.

                 Castano, a fugitive, said Pizarro was collaborating with drug lord Pablo Escobar
                 and would have been a danger to Colombia if elected president.

                 Escobar, leader of the violent Medellin cocaine cartel, was killed by authorities in
                 1993 following a massive manhunt.

                 Castano, who has eluded arrest for years, also admitted to ordering the killings of
                 two popular lawmakers. The attorney general's office last year accused Castano of
                 killing Pizarro, but he was formally not charged with the murder.

                 The AUC is waging a brutal war against leftist guerrillas and those suspected of
                 working with them. The 37-year civil war kills an estimated 3,500 people every

                 Meanwhile Sunday, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC,
                 freed a Catholic priest in Huila province after holding him for 16 months.

                 Doctors were treating Guillermo Correa for an unspecified illness that the priest has
                 been suffering from since the rebels kidnapped him, a church official said.

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.