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Friday, March 02, 2007

Colombia orders arrest of ex-minister's father

BOGOTA, March 2 (Reuters) - Colombian prosecutors on Friday ordered the father of the former foreign minister arrested on kidnapping charges following a broad probe that has unearthed links between politicians and illegal paramilitary gangs.

The attorney general's office ordered Alvaro Araujo Noguera, a prominent former politician, detained on charges he helped kidnap a political rival. His son, a senator, is also accused of orchestrating the kidnapping.

President Alvaro Uribe is fending off the growing scandal after his former security police chief and eight congressional allies, including Araujo's son, were arrested on charges they colluded with the militias.

"(Araujo) has an arrest warrant out for the same crime that his son is being investigated for," an attorney general's office spokeswoman said.

Araujo's daughter, Maria Consuelo, resigned as foreign minister last week after prosecutors named her father and brother in the investigation into links with the paramilitaries, who are accused of drug trafficking and some of the worst atrocities in Colombia's 4-decade-old conflict.

Established in the 1980s, the paramilitaries acted as private armies fighting Marxist rebels in areas where the state and military had little presence. They often massacred and kidnapped just on suspicion their victims were guerrillas.

Colombia's conflict has ebbed since Uribe began a U.S.-backed offensive on guerrillas and the drug trade. More than 31,000 paramilitary fighters have joined a peace deal allowing them to serve short jail terms for handing in their weapons and confessing to crimes.

Paramilitary leaders often bragged about their political contacts, and rights groups for years charged that politicians and military officers worked with the militias. But the current probe is revealing the depth of paramilitary influence.
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