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Barco Offers Colombian Trial to Medellin Cartel Chief

April 5, 1990

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ President Virgilio Barco on Wednesday promised that if the head of the Medellin drug cartel surrenders, he will not be extradited to the United States and will receive a fair trial in Colombia.

A few hours later, the Medellin cartel threatened to kill a senator and explode a bomb in the capital if three men arrested last week are not released. The three are believed to be security men for the traffickers.

Scores of police from an anti-terrorist strike force began arriving in Medellin, where traffickers’ gunmen have killed 12 police officers since Monday to collect bounties offered by the cartel.

A policeman was murdered on a Medellin street Wednesday, a police communique there reported.

Barco did not explain why he made his offer to cartel chief Pablo Escobar. He had repeatedly said he would not negotiate with traffickers, and last week the government extradited its 15th drug suspect to the United States since declaring war on drug lords last August.

The drug traffickers have said they would rather die than face trial in the United States and have offered to turn themselves in if they are not extradited.

″Mr. Escobar has said that he is going to give himself up, and I say that if he surrenders, I guarantee the (Colombian) judges will judge him with complete impartiality,″ Barco told the Colombian radio network RCN in reply to a question.

U.S. Justice Department officials say Escobar runs the world’s most powerful cocaine trafficking organization. Like all other trafficking suspects in Colombia, Escobar faces no drug charges in his own country.

Barco did not say what charges Escobar would be tried on if he surrendered. He is charged with several murders, including that of newsman Guillermo Cano. The publisher of the Bogota daily El Espectador was slain Dec. 17, 1987. His newspaper had urged government action against drug lords.

National police say Escobar also ordered last month’s slaying of a presidential candidate of the leftist Patriot Union Party. Bernardo Jaramillo, who was running in the May 26 election, was assassinated March 22 at Bogota’s international airport.

Colombia does not have a death penalty. The maximum prison sentence for murder is 20 years, with no time off for good behavior.

The drug war began when traffickers killed Luis Carlos Galan, the governing party’s presidential hopeful.

Police reinforcements began arriving Wednesday in the northwestern city of Medellin. Eleven policemen were killed and eight were wounded Monday and Tuesday in the city of 2 million people.

The Medellin police chief, Col. Alberto Otalora, said Tuesday that drug traffickers shot all the policemen. Last week, the Medellin cartel said in a communique it was offering a $4,300 reward for every policeman killed.

In the last week, 11 wealthy people have been kidnapped by drug traffickers in Medellin, police communiques have said. The latest was federal Sen. Federeico Estrada, abducted Tuesday.

In a communique released Wednesday, after Barco’s announcement, the cartel threatened to kill Estrada. It also repeated its threat to explode an 11,000- pound bomb in Bogota if three men arrested last week are not freed.

The communique, like all the cartel’s messages, came via fax to Colombian radio networks. The communique carried the cartel’s persistent message: ″We prefer a grave in Colombia to a prison in the United States.″

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