Colombian paramilitary chief deported from US to face charges


Bogota (AFP)

A former paramilitary chief accused of 3,000 crimes was Tuesday returned to his native Colombia to face justice after being deported from the United States, where he had been incarcerated on drug charges.

Hebert Veloza, 50, alias "HH," touched down in Bogota after being loaded on a plane in Alexandria, in the US state of Virginia, Colombia's migration service said in a statement.

He faces charges in his homeland of murder, forced recruitment of minors and criminal association.

He had been in prison in the United States since 2009 for drug trafficking, after Colombia allowed his extradition.

Veloza had quit as a paramilitary leader in 2004, but then clandestinely returned to the activity in 2006.

He was arrested in 2007 despite invoking a special law that gave criminal leniency to members of armed groups that demobilised, admitted their crimes and paid damages to their victims.

His extradition to the US was criticised by rights groups and victims' associations, which feared his crimes in Colombia would go unpunished.

Colombia was rocked for more than half a century by an armed conflict that over that time involved around 30 leftwing guerrilla groups, extreme-right paramilitary outfits, and government forces. More than 260,000 people were killed, more than 60,000 disappeared, and seven million people were displaced within the country.

The main conflict came to an end with a November 2016 peace accord signed between the government and the main rebel group, the FARC.

Negotiations have been under way since February to strike a similar pact with the smaller ELN guerrilla group, the last insurgent organisation which is observing a ceasefire valid to early January 2018.