BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) — A far-right Colombian warlord participating in peace negotiations with the government has been killed by his own men, police said Monday, in another bloody incident that could undermine the shaky talks.
Miguel Arroyave and four of his bodyguards were killed in a gunfight with fellow members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, in the southern province of Meta on Sunday, an official from the DAS detective force said.
Arroyave was a top AUC negotiator in struggling peace talks, which the government hopes will lead to the disbanding of the 20,000-member outlaw force. He commanded about one-third of the AUC’s illegal army.
He was the third prominent far-right outlaw to be killed by former comrades this year. AUC founder Carlos Castano’s execution-style killing in April pushed the talks to the breaking point.
The negotiations are key to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s plans to pacify a nation locked in a 40-year-old war claiming thousands of lives a year, and officials fear failure could spark a surge of violence.
The AUC has killed thousands of people in a war against Marxist rebels, sometimes in cooperation with sectors of the armed forces, and has been responsible for many of Colombia’s worst human rights violations.
Cocaine smuggling is a major source of AUC income, according to the United States, which says it supports the peace negotiations but wants to make sure paramilitary leaders go to prison.
The talks, which formally began midyear, have struggled due to the insistence by paramilitary leaders that they will not serve time behind bars. The government wants them incarcerated for five to 10 years.
But officials privately acknowledge that AUC chiefs may get to keep some of their illegally earned fortunes in the name of peace.
Arroyave was killed a day after Uribe, whom human rights groups have accused of being soft on the paramilitaries, warned the AUC to submit to justice or face defeat on the battlefield.