BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombian government officials said Friday they need support from the international community to assist in the planned demobilization of thousands of right-wing paramilitary fighters.
The paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, pledged late Thursday to disarm at least 3,000 of its fighters before the end of the year as a goodwill gesture to spark slow-moving peace talks that began in July.
AUC commanders said in the statement they would leave the government with the job of reincorporating the demobilized fighters into society, which could cost the government millions of dollars for job training and other programs.
“This is a titanic task … that will need the solidarity and cooperation of the international community,” Colombian Interior and Justice Minister Sabas Pretelt said on local radio.
Neither the United States nor European countries have so far offered to foot any of the bill for demobilization.
Officials in Washington say the leaders of the paramilitary factions that sprouted in the 1980s to attack two Marxist guerrilla groups are more interested in trafficking drugs than making peace. European diplomats are concerned about a peace deal that could give immunity to militia commanders accused of heinous crimes.
Speaking Friday at a crime forum in Bogota, U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mary Lee Warren said that despite the disarmament pledge by the AUC, Washington will continue to seek the extradition of paramilitary leaders accused of trafficking drugs to U.S. shores.
“We want those individuals who have been accused of breaking important U.S. laws brought to justice,” she said.
The peace talks have been marked by bickering and suspicions that the paramilitary factions have no real intention of disarming permanently.
Critics say there is no mechanism to assure demobilized paramilitary fighters do not trickle back into the militia groups, which have waged a dirty war of assassinations and massacres of rebels and their supporters. The paramilitary groups are now heavily involved in drug trafficking and carry out extortion rackets.