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Colombia Group Frees Last Lawmaker

November 8, 2000

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Colombia’s top right-wing paramilitary leader has freed the last of seven lawmakers he kidnapped last month to protest peace talks between the government and leftist guerrillas.

Paramilitary leader Carlos Castano released legislators Zulema Jattin, Antonio Guerra and Luis Felipe Villega on Tuesday night _ ending a three-week hostage ordeal that fueled new controversy about negotiations to end the South American country’ 36-year war.

Castano had handed over two captive legislators to an official delegation, including Colombia’s Interior Minister, on Monday, and released two more early Tuesday.

The releases apparently came after Castano was convinced his message had been made. The kidnapped legislators were seen as backers of the peace process. There were no reports of ransoms paid or concessions.

Castano, commander of the rightist United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, has been highly critical of Pastrana’s peace initiatives with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Castano claims Pastrana has been too soft on the guerrilla group and demands a seat at the peace table for his landowner-backed paramilitary forces. Pastrana has refused to open negotiations with the paramilitaries or grant them formal political status as he has done for the rebels. The rebels oppose including Castano in the peace talks.

A $1.3 billion U.S. anti-drug aid package for Colombia is conditioned on more government progress in dismantling Castano’s organization _ which is accused of committing human rights abuses _ and severing paramilitary ties to the Colombian military.

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