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In Colombia, forging peace with old arms

December 15, 2007|From the Associated Press

SOGAMOSO, COLOMBIA — Former paramilitaries and victims of their violence banded together Friday to destroy a huge cache of weapons surrendered by the right-wing militias.

In a somber ceremony attended by foreign dignitaries, 18,051 rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers -- a cache weighing 60 tons -- were dumped into a giant caldron. The arsenal, which included 2.7 million bullets, was handed over as part of a 2003 peace pact.

It will be used to create sculptures to raise money for victims.

Ranchers financed the paramilitaries' rise in the late 1980s as protection against leftist rebels. The militias evolved into some of the worst criminal gangs, stealing land and seizing control of much of the drug trade.

An accord with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the AUC, led warlords to demobilize 31,000 men and confess crimes in exchange for reduced prison terms and protection from extradition.

But human rights groups have criticized Colombia as too lenient toward the militias. The U.S. has requested the extradition of several AUC leaders.

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