The Miami Herald
August 25, 1999

Colombian rightist leader admits to ordering assassination

 From Herald Wire Services

 BOGOTA, Colombia -- The leader of Colombia's rightist paramilitary groups
 admitted Tuesday to ordering the recent assassination of a leftist student leader,
 but declared his conscience is clear.

 In a rare radio interview, fugitive militia chief Carlos Castaño said he would
 maintain his war on suspected leftist supporters until Colombia's guerrilla
 movements show they are truly interested in peace.

 ``You need two to make war, and two for peace,'' Castaño said in a lengthy phone
 call to Radionet radio.

 Castaño, whom federal prosecutors have charged in numerous massacres and
 political assassinations, admitted to ordering the Aug. 7 execution of Gustavo
 Marulanda, a student leader in Medellin accused of ties to the rebels.

 ``I ordered that action, and for that I'll respond before history and God,'' Castaño
 said. ``My conscience is clear.''

 The militia chief's comments followed a weekend paramilitary offensive in
 northeastern Colombia in which at least 29 villagers were shot to death.

 Castaño claimed the victims in La Gabarra and Tibu, two towns in an
 oil-producing region near the border with Venezuela, were clandestine guerrilla
 members. Regional human rights officials say they were innocent civilians.

 Backed by wealthy landowners, some 5,000 paramilitary fighters operate against
 an estimated 20,000 leftist rebels -- members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces
 of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and a splinter faction of
 the demobilized People's Liberation Army (EPL).

 The paramilitary group accuses the rebels of guarding illegal crops in the Rio
 Catatumbo area about 370 miles northeast of Bogota.

 Castaño said that ``wherever there are guerrilla strongholds, the economy is
 drugs, generally coca and opium poppies.''

 ``The problem of drug trafficking in Colombia is truly serious, and it is because the
 economy is `narcotized' that the guerrillas are `narcotized,' and in some form
 drugs have penetrated . . . the entire society,'' he added.

 Despite the recent paramilitary strikes, Castaño said he supports an eventual
 cease-fire and wants to be included in negotiations to end the conflict.

 ``I've been tired of the war since I began,'' said Castaño, who claims he fights to
 avenge the kidnapping and murder of his father by rebels. ``I'd like it to end, but
 not at any price.''

 ``I am personally ready to talk with the members of the FARC,'' he told Radionet.