March 2, 2000
Colombian death squad leader reveals his face

                  From staff and wire reports.

                  BOGOTA, Colombia -- For the first time, Colombians have seen the face
                  of the man behind the country's feared right-wing paramilitary militias.

                  Clad in a shirt and tie rather than the customary olive drab military fatigues,
                  Carlos Castano sat down for a rare 90-minute televised interview that aired

                  As he revealed his face, Castano said his forces have committed atrocities
                  against civilians and have close ties to drug trafficking.

                  But he dismissed as "fiction" recent accusations in Washington of close
                  collaboration between his forces and the Colombian military.

                  "We have nothing to thank the armed forces for, neither the army or the
                  police," Castano told Colombia's Caracol television in the broadcast. "I
                  don't have any friends who are generals, and there's no state-run paramilitary
                  policy in Colombia. That's a lie."

                  The interview came as the U.S. Congress debates a proposed $1.6 billion
                  anti-narcotics package to Colombia that includes a massive increase in
                  military aid.

                  Critics charge the aid would fuel human rights abuses, given alleged
                  operational ties between the military and Castano's United Self-Defense
                  Forces of Colombia. Washington has pressured Colombia to crack down
                  on paramilitary groups.

                  Chilling frankness

                  Clean-shaven, with short-cropped black hair, intense dark eyes and a
                  gravelly voice, the 35-year-old Castano wore slacks and shiny loafers. He
                  talked about the Bible and at one point recited poetry.

                  In previous interviews, the militia chief has donned camouflage fatigues and
                  cradled a weapon, always insisting on being filmed or photographed from
                  behind. Living in hiding, he faces arrest warrants for several assassinations --
                  though the government has been criticized for making little attempt to capture

                  Castano spoke with chilling frankness about actions that have drawn
                  condemnation from human rights organizations, the United Nations and the
                  U.S. government.

                  Asked how he bankrolled the force of paramilitary gunmen he claims to
                  command, Castano said, "drug trafficking and drug traffickers probably
                  finance 70 percent." The rest comes largely from extortion, he said.

                  The forces -- estimated to range from 5,000 to 7,000 members nationwide
                  -- have killed leftists and suspected rebel sympathizers across Colombia for
                  more than a decade. Human rights groups have long blamed the
                  paramilitaries for most of the peasant massacres and other atrocities
                  committed in a conflict that has taken more than 35,000 lives in the past

                  Castano said executing unarmed villagers suspected of clandestine rebel
                  membership is a "despicable method," but a necessary one.

                  "Given the conditions of an irregular conflict, it is almost inevitable that
                  people die and are counted as civilians, even if they were subversives," he

                  Castano said he has no qualms about ordering executions but is too
                  squeamish personally to carry them out. "Perhaps that's cowardice on my
                  part," he said.

                  Wants seat at peace table

                  The paramilitary groups were founded during the 1980s by wealthy
                  landowners and drug traffickers seeking protection from rebels. Castano got
                  involved as a teen-ager, he says, after rebels kidnapped and killed his father.

                  The bloodshed escalated in recent years, with both the guerrillas and the
                  rightist militias feeding off huge profits from protecting and taxing Colombia's
                  bustling cocaine trade. Rebel attacks on two towns this week left six people
                  dead, including four police officers.

                  Castano said he wants to be included in peace talks begun last year to end
                  the conflict. President Andres Pastrana is negotiating only with the rebels,
                  who oppose giving the paramilitary groups a seat at the table.
                               The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.