November 8, 2000

Paramilitary chief in Colombia frees last of captive lawmakers

                  BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Colombia's top right-wing paramilitary leader has
                  freed the last of a group of seven lawmakers he kidnapped last month to protest
                  peace talks between the government and leftist guerrillas.

                  Legislators Zulema Jattin, Antonio Guerra and Luis Felipe Villega were released
                  late Tuesday -- ending a three-week hostage ordeal that fueled new controversy
                  about negotiations to end the South American country' 36-year war.

                  Paramilitary chief Carlos Castano freed two other lawmakers earlier Tuesday. He
                  had released two on Monday to an official delegation including Colombia's
                  Interior Minister.

                  It was the first known meeting between a member of President Andres
                  Pastrana's government and Castano. However, officials insist it was for
                  humanitarian purposes only -- not the prelude to a political dialogue with the
                  paramilitary leader.

                  Castano, commander of the rightist United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia or
                  AUC, has been highly critical of Pastrana's peace initiatives with the leftist
                  Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

                  Castano claims Pastrana has been too soft on the powerful guerrilla group and
                  demands a seat at the peace table for his landowner-backed paramilitary forces.

                  Pastrana has refused to open negotiations with the AUC or grant them formal
                  political status as he has done for the rebels. The FARC vehemently opposes
                  including Castano in the peace talks.

                  A dlrs 1.3 billion U.S. anti-drug aid package for Colombia is conditioned on more
                  government progress in dismantling Castano's organization and severing AUC
                  ties to the Colombian military. The AUC has been accused of committing
                  widespread human rights abuses such as the massacres of suspected rebel

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.