BOGOTA, Colombia — The U.S. government will try to extradite and put on trial Colombian guerrillas and right-wing militia members who are involved in drug trafficking or money laundering, the U.S. ambassador said Wednesday.
The announcement at an international money-laundering conference marks a new strategy in confronting Colombia's illegal armed groups, which finance themselves through drug trafficking.
Previously, drug kingpins have been extradited to the United States, but none of the rebels or paramilitary members have faced the U.S. justice system. Ambassador Anne W. Patterson said the extradition attempts form part of increased efforts to combat money laundering after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"We have focused our attention on all types of international organized crime, including money laundering," the envoy told the conference in the seaport city of Cartagena.
The U.S. requests would apply to two rebel armies--the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the National Liberation Army, or ELN--as well as the right-wing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.
All three groups are already on a U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, and they have long been accused of financing and fueling Colombia's 37-year civil war through drug operations.
"The United States wants to try the members of the three groups that are involved in drug trafficking and money laundering and will seek their extradition," Patterson said during the speech, excerpts of which were broadcast on Colombian radio.
Patterson said all three groups are "deeply involved in drug trafficking" and funnel their money through legal financial institutions.
She did not name any rebel or paramilitary members who could be extradited.
The United States is currently providing $1.3 billion in mostly military aid to fight drug trafficking in Colombia. Most of the money has been dedicated to the training of Colombian counter-narcotics troops by U.S. special forces and the delivery of dozens of combat helicopters.
The U.S.-trained troops have been protecting fumigation planes, which are being used to wipe out drug-producing crops protected by the rebel and paramilitary groups.