Authorities Capture Members of Drug Trafficking Clan
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Police were holding eight reputed members of a notorious Colombian drug ring on Thursday to determine if they should be extradited to the United States, a police official said.
Miguel Gomez Padilla, the national police chief, said the men belong to the so-called ″Ochoa clan″ and would be held until authorities could establish whether they were wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges.
Gomez Padilla said there were apparently no outstanding charges against the men in Colombia.
He added that all were close relatives of Jorge Luis Ochoa-Vasquez, Juan David Ochoa-Vasquez and Fabio Ochoa-Vasquez, the three brothers considered central figures in the powerful Medellin cocaine cartel. The three are on a list of 12 top drug traffickers wanted by the United States.
An anti-narcotics police unit captured the suspects in a raid on a ranch Wednesday about 125 miles north of Bogota. They were brought to this capital city.
Gomez Padilla said authorities were searching intensely for Pablo Emilio Escobar-Gaviria, the reputed leader of the Medellin cartel and the most wanted man in Colombia. But he stressed that the manhunt was part of a general battle against the drug traffickers.
″We are not obsessed with the capture of one or two bandits,″ the police chief told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday.
Gomez Padilla said that the government’s drug crackdown would be reinforced by the installation of a new government in neighboring Panama.
The Colombian press, echoing charges by the U.S. government, has repeatedly said the country’s former dictator, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, was an important ally of the drug cartels.
It is charged that Noriega allowed the Colombian cartels to import cocaine processing chemicals from Panama, to launder drug money in the country and to use it as a transfer point for cocaine deliveries to the United States.
Colombian security forces have seized 31 tons of cocaine this year, and in the last four months the administration of President Virgilio Barco has extradited 11 drug suspects to the United States.
Gomez Padilla said the immediate objective of the government campaign was to destroy the traffickers’ terrorist and paramilitary organizations.
Officials have said that the groups are responsible for the 260 terrorist attacks that have killed 209 people since the government declared war on the traffickers in August.
The government scored its biggest victory in the struggle when police shot and killed Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez-Gacha, 42, a Medellin cartel leader, in a Dec. 15 gunfight on Colombia’s northern coast.
The police chief said that groups of criminals formerly owing their allegiance to Rodriguez-Gacha had begun to disband as a result of his death.
In the last two weeks, police have found the bodies of 22 people suspected of formerly working for Rodriguez-Gacha, and riots in two Bogota jails have resulted in the death of 12 prisoners also linked to the Medellin cartel.
Officials have blamed the violence on traffickers and other gangsters battling for control of the slain drug lord’s vast criminal enterprise, which generates billions of dollars each year.
On Wednesday, a White House spokesman said the Pentagon was studying a naval and air blockade of Colombia, particularly along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, to cut the flow of cocaine reaching the United States.
But the U.S. Embassy here said in a statement Thursday that it ″never has considered a blockade of Colombia″ and that a proposed anti-drug operation would be conducted in international waters without affecting legitimate shipping interests.
The report caused outrage among many Colombians, who think their country’s battle against drug traffickers since the August slaying of a leading presidential candidate has helped the United States.