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Colombians Overcome Fear Of Drug Traffickers And Fight Back With PM-Colombia, Bjt

August 25, 1989

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ The assassination of a promising young presidential hopeful has triggered a backlash against drug kingpins by Colombians who have overcome their fear and are helping authorities fight back.

″We’ve had a tremendous cooperation from the people,″ the national police force’s press chief, Col. Alfredo Salgado, said in an interview Thursday.

″The people have always wanted to cooperate with the police, but they were afraid,″ he said. ″They’ve left aside their fear and are cooperating.″

When five suspects in the slaying of Sen. Luis Carlos Galan were paraded before 15 witnesses this week, the witnesses did not hesitate in fingering four of them, police said.

They also said special hot lines set up to receive tips are providing information that has enabled police to raid several of the hundreds of drug lords’ estates and businesses as part of the crackdown.

Salgado said the cooperation was inspired by citizens witnessing police, for the first time, engaged in a virtual all-out war with the country’s drug cartels. The crackdown was sparked by the assassinations of Galan, a police colonel and a magistrate in a 48-hour period last week.

Galan, 46, was a highly popular Liberal Party candidate for president and the widely acknowleged leader of a new political generation. He was considered extremely honest and spoke vehemently about the need to eradicate the drug underworld.

An assassin pumped five bullets into his lower abdomen, beneath his bullet- proof vest, as he stood on a small platform during a political rally on Bogota’s outskirts Friday night. Several accomplices in the killing raked the air with gunfire to provoke panic and allow the trigger-man’s escape.

Traffickers previously had been blamed for the assassinations of a justice minister and an attorney general, but Galan’s slaying took drug-sponsored violence to a new level, Colombians contend.

Clara Obregon Lopez, a former Liberal Party city council member in Bogota, said his murder showed the traffickers ″are attacking the core of the country’s institutions and want to replace the current political leadership.″

The witnesses’ decision to identify the killers was ″a demonstration of the deep indignation of the people,″ she said in an interview at her home.

″The indignation is so strong that it’s not leaving room for fear,″ she said.

Fear is real and justified in Colombia. As Mrs. Obregon Lopez recalled, traffickers two years ago killed a 9-year-old girl who had witnessed the assassination of a leftist political leader in the town of Barrancabermeja. Another witness survived for two years before being gunned down a few months ago.

Since 1981, 220 judges, magistrates and judicial aides have been killed in the traffickers’ campaign of terror against the legal system.

Each important assassination has appeared to galvanize Colombian society, but only temporarily. Previous crackdowns, although not as intense as the current offensive, have petered out in a few weeks.

On Thursday, the traffickers declared ″absolute war″ in response to the police and military actions and to the prospect of extradition should they be arrested. They counterattacked with bombings and arson in Medellin, the home of the world’s biggest cocaine cartel.

Mrs. Obregon Lopez said it was evident ″they are trying to reinstill fear and dampen spirits, to cut short this anti-narcotics campaign.″

U.S. officials have said the Colombian government must show its resolve by following through on a promise to extradite any drug lords who are arrested.

U.S. and Colombian authorities say they are trying to arrange the extradition of Eduardo Martinez Romero, a suspected finance manager for the Medellin cartel caught on Saturday.

Two other possible subjects for extradition, also described as important trafficking figures, were arrested Wednesday. But the reputed cartel bosses have yet to be captured.

Enrique Santos Calderon, an editor of the respected Bogota daily El Tiempo, said in a commentary Thursday that the latest killings represent ″the most inconceivable challenge that the traffickers could have sent to the Colombian state, so arrogant and brutal as to appear delirious.″

He called on the government of President Virgilio Barco to take even stronger action to destroy the cartels and capture their leaders.

″Has the hour finally arrived (when we say) ‘Enough already?’ ... We’ll know soon,″ Santos Calderon said.

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