Uribe's cousin arrested over Colombia militias

President Alvaro Uribe's cousin, a senator and the leader's confidant, was arrested on Tuesday as authorities probed his suspected ties to paramilitary death squads in a deepening political scandal.


BOGOTA, April 22 (Reuters) - Colombian prosecutors arrested
President Alvaro Uribe's cousin on Tuesday as authorities
probed his suspected ties to paramilitary death squads in a
deepening political scandal for the key U.S. ally.

The investigation of Mario Uribe, a longtime senator and
presidential confidant, is expected to fuel concerns among U.S.
Democrats who oppose a Colombian trade pact because of human
rights abuses and lingering influence of ex-paramilitaries.

Jostling with screaming protesters, police spirited Mario
Uribe away from the Costa Rican Embassy, where the former
lawmaker had earlier sought political asylum after the attorney
general's office ordered him arrested on charges he conspired
with militia commanders.

The arrest edges the "para political" scandal closer to
President Uribe as he fends off concerns about congressional
stability with more than 60 lawmakers under investigation and
half of those behind bars for suspected paramilitary links.

"The arrest warrant for Sen. Mario Uribe hurts me, but it is
a pain I will accept with patriotism and without avoiding the
fulfillment of my responsibilities," the president said in a
brief statement before his cousin's arrest.

The ex-senator had earlier asked for political asylum in
the embassy, but San Jose rejected the petition as
"inappropriate" because he had an outstanding warrant.

Alvaro Uribe, a close U.S. partner, has reduced violence
from Colombia's four-decades-long conflict by driving back
rebels and negotiating the surrender of illegal paramilitaries
who massacred peasants and dealt in cocaine in the name of

Foreign investment is growing and the economy booming. But
the president has struggled recently to convince U.S. Democrats
to back a free trade deal as U.S. lawmakers and rights groups
worry over paramilitary violence and trade union murders.

A second cousin to the president and a former congressional
leader, Mario Uribe was ordered detained after testimony from
paramilitary warlords that he asked them to back his senate
campaign and help him secure cheap farmland.

The former lawmaker has previously denied any wrongdoing.


Alvaro Uribe, who has received billions in U.S. aid to
fight against Latin America's oldest insurgency, says the
investigations show Colombia's institutions are working. But he
clashed with the Supreme Court over its probes.

"This will have an impact," said Rafael Nieto, a former
deputy justice minister who is now a political analyst. "For
one he is the president's relative and secondly he was for
years a partner in Uribe's political fight."

Carrying banners and a fake coffin, victims of paramilitary
violence rallied earlier outside the embassy to demand that
Mario Uribe face justice for the charges he collaborated with
warlords accused of atrocities in the darker days of the

"Truth, Justice and Reparation," read one banner.

Mario Uribe stepped down from the Senate last October to
protect himself from questions from the Supreme Court, which
investigates public officials. But the attorney general has
kept up its probe into his ties with militia warlords.

The attorney general's office said Uribe was under
investigation for meeting with paramilitary commander Salvatore
Mancuso before the elections of March 10, 2002, and with Jairo
Castillo Peralta, alias 'Pitirri,' in November 1998.

Paramilitary organizations were originally formed by
wealthy land owners to counter rebels in areas where state
security presence was weak. But their influence soon mushroomed
as they took control of large swaths of the Andean country.

Paramilitary commanders disbanded their armies under a deal
with Uribe's government, which allowed them short jail terms
for promising to confess their crimes and compensate victims.
But rights groups and some U.S. lawmakers worry the former
commanders have kept their criminal networks alive.

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