In a surprise, Uribe sends 14 militia leaders to U.S. for trial

CARACAS — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe authorized the extradition to the United States of 14 notorious paramilitary warlords Tuesday to face cocaine-trafficking charges in a move that surprised many.

In a nationwide television address, Uribe said that he agreed to the extradition because the paramilitary leaders had been committing crimes behind bars and had failed to make restitution to victims of their crimes. ''The country has been generous with them, but the government can't tolerate a relapse into crime,'' Uribe said.

Some analysts ascribed a political motive as well, noting that Uribe's decision comes while the president and his allies have been increasingly enveloped by a scandal over their ties to paramilitary groups.

Professor Bruce Bagley, of the University of Miami, said 31 members of Congress who are Uribe allies have been imprisoned because of their paramilitary ties while another 37 are under suspicion or are under indictment — or about one-fourth of the Congress overall.

The extraditions follow the transfer of a major paramilitary warlord last week. Carlos Mario Jiménez, alias ''Macaco,'' had surrendered in December 2006 as part of a peace pact with the government. But Jiménez, 42, was among the least cooperative of about 50 warlords, and in August he became the first to be stripped of peace-deal benefits that include protection from extradition.

Among those extradited Tuesday was Salvatore Mancuso, who in his heyday fielded an army of 30,000 who fought the FARC guerrillas, killed innocent people for sport, imposed taxes on coca farmers and sold the finished product, cocaine, authorities said. He and the others could face up to 30 years in U.S. prisons.

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