URGENT Nearly 10,000 Arrested in Manhunt for Candidate’s Killers
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Police and soldiers rounded up nearly 10,000 suspects in an unprecedented nationwide crackdown on cocaine traffickers blamed for the assassination of leading presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, officials said Sunday.
Tens of thousands of people, many openly weeping and calling out for justice, packed downtown streets for Galan’s funeral Sunday. President Virgilio Barco characterized him as a martyr in an intensifying war on the fearsome drug underworld.
According to a Defense Ministry communique issued Sunday night, police and military authorities have rounded up 9,896 suspects, raided 298 homes of suspected drug dealers and seized 330 arms and about four tons of cocaine since Barco announced emergency crackdown measures Friday.
The statement said 1,023 cars and trucks also were confiscated in the sweep, which included raids at the posh and well-guarded estates and other properties of several suspected cocaine chieftains, including Pablo Escobar Gaviria, Rodriguez Gacha and Jorge Ochoa.
There were no reports that the leaders of the Medellin cocaine cartel were arrested.
Assassins believed hired by the drug cartel gunned down Galan, a 46-year- old Liberal Party senator and presidential candidate, during a Friday night political rally in the town of Soacha, 20 miles south of Bogota.
The death capped a 48-hour wave of assassinations that also included a provincial commander of the national police force and a Bogota magistrate. All of the victims were active in combating drugs.
In Washington, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh expressed support Sunday for sending U.S. troops to Colombia to help fight drug lords.
″I think we have to look at any request that we get for either law enforcement or military assistance seriously,″ he said on NBC’s ″Meet the Press″ program.
About 50,000 Colombians lined downtown streets for Galan’s funeral procession, waving white handkerchiefs and singing the national anthem as the flag-draped coffin was carried from the capital building to the national cathedral.
At Galan’s funeral service, Barco declared: ″Galan’s and his party’s fight against the criminal narcotics trafficking organization was frontal and without concessions. The threats did not take him from his commitment.″
″Every Colombian and foreigner who takes drugs must remember they are helping those who assassinated Galan and hundreds of others in this battle,″ he said.
The president described his country as ″the biggest victim of an international organization dedicated to the crime of drug trafficking, the most gigantic and powerful such organization that has ever existed.″
His emergency measures included extradition of proven drug traffickers to the United States. Barco, in his speech at the funeral service, called for ″international solidarity″ in fighting the drug problem.
At the cemetery, as the coffin was lowered, thousands of Colombians chanted, ″Galan is still here 3/8″
In a message to the Colombian people published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope John Paul II expressed ″pain″ over the assassination and called for an end to the drug scourge.
Galan, considered the leading Liberal Party candidate for the May 1990 presidential elections, had survived previous attempts on his life. Police said drug traffickers had offered $500,000 for his death.
According to press reports, Escobar Gaviria, the head of the Medellin drug cartel that reportedly supplies most of the United States and Europe with cocaine, traveled to Panama earlier this week after ordering a series of killings, including Galan’s.
The drug cartels announced Saturday they would step up violence in a bid to force the government to negotiate with them, although they have never publicly stated their demands in detail.
In a communique released to radio stations, the cartels said ″now the fight is with blood″ and vowed to oppose any government moves to bring them to justice.
The statement was signed ″The Extraditables,″ a reference to those drug leaders wanted in the United States.
Drug kingpins have lived in Colombia under cover for the last decade without any major interference from authorities.
Galan’s death brought renewed calls for firmer action, including a military campaign on the drug strongholds scattered throughout this remote, mountainous country.
Political support for stronger measures seemed limited, however, with some political leaders calling for direct negotiations with the cartels.
″We have tried many measures without success. Now is the time for dialogue,″ said Juan Gomez Martinez, the mayor of Medellin. The city is known as one of the most violent in the world and a center for drug activities in Colombia.
In a related development, 4,500 judges called off a strike and vowed to double their efforts to bring drug dealers to justice.
Since 1981, about 220 judges and court employees have been killed, mostly by thugs working for the drug cartels, according to the Association of Judicial System Employees, the court worker’s union.
The government’s new anti-drug program includes more money to protect judges and court workers.