Associated Press
March 18, 2001

Commander Escapes Colombia Prison


              BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- A paramilitary commander accused of organizing a
              massacre of 38 people has escaped from a Bogota prison, four days after suspected
              drug smugglers freed themselves from the same institution, a newspaper reported

              The paramilitary commander, Martin Villa, escaped from Modelo Prison on Feb. 25
              by apparently disguising himself as a visitor and then simply walking out, according
              to interviews the El Tiempo newspaper conducted with prison authorities.

              Prison officials did not notify the chief prosecutor's office until after March 9,
              according to the article, which did not say why they took so long to reveal Villa's

              Villa is accused of leading a February 2000 massacre in which 300 fighters from the
              rightist paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, tortured and
              killed 38 villagers in El Salao in Bolivar State after accusing them of working with
              leftist guerrillas.

              Colombian government figures show massacres and selective assassinations linked
              to the AUC rose from 400 deaths in 1998 to 1,560 last year.

              Critics accuse the military of working with the AUC in its fight against the leftist

              On Feb. 21, four days before Villa escaped, two suspected drug smugglers arrested
              along with 52 others in a massive police sweep last November escaped from the
              same institution. The suspects, Juan Velez and Pablo Hoyos, were awaiting
              extradition to the United States. It wasn't clear how they freed themselves.

              Bogota's Modelo Prison holds 5,000 inmates, El Tiempo said.