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Deaths cloud Colombian ex-governor's trial

Officials launch an investigation into the deaths of 10 people linked to the trial of ex-Gov. Salvador Arana who is alleged to have ordered the death of El Roble Mayor Eudaldo Diaz in 2003.

February 06, 2009|Chris Kraul

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — The special prosecutor's office of Colombia said Thursday that it was investigating the deaths of 10 people linked to the slaying of a mayor in 2003, weeks after he had complained of being a marked man to President Alvaro Uribe.

A spokesman for Prosecutor Mario Iguaran confirmed the investigation, in a statement that came three days after the death of Grey del Carmen Tirado. She was the latest in a string of victims tied to the trial of former Sucre Gov. Salvador Arana, accused of ordering the killing of Mayor Eudaldo Diaz.

Also on Thursday, former state congressman Sigifredo Lopez was released by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia after nearly seven years in captivity. He was the sixth hostage freed by Colombia's largest rebel group in the last week.

Lopez and 11 other state legislators had been kidnapped in April 2002 in an audacious raid on the Cali statehouse. The others were killed in June 2007 by the rebels, apparently in reaction to what they thought was a government rescue attempt.

Diaz, the reform-minded mayor of El Roble in northern Sucre state, had received death threats from paramilitary groups, and told Uribe during a community meeting in February 2003 that he feared for his life.

The 47-year-old doctor had resisted the right-wing militias' efforts to take control of El Roble's treasury and health system for fear they would loot them, according to his son, Juan David.

Diaz had also denounced Arana at the 2003 meeting before Uribe, saying the then-governor backed paramilitary fighters.

Despite his warnings, two months later, in April, Diaz was kidnapped, tortured for five days and killed. The mayor had been on his way to a meeting supposedly to reconcile with Arana.

Soon after the killing, Arana resigned the governorship and was named Colombian ambassador to Chile by Uribe. He became a fugitive in 2007 after being charged in connection with the slaying. He was captured last year in the Colombian coastal city of Santa Marta, where he had been living in a luxury condo.

The latest victim, Tirado, was the wife of Edelberto "El Chino" Anaya, who is also being held for alleged involvement in the Diaz slaying. She died in a hospital after she was shot several times in Sincelejo, the state capital of Sucre, by unidentified assailants.

The Jan. 5 attack came days after she approached the Diaz family and said publicly that her husband was prepared to testify fully and truthfully at Arana's trial, which resumes next week in Bogota, the capital.

Nine other people have been killed since Diaz's death, the prosecutor's office said. The Diaz family's attorney, Rafael Barrios, charged that all were slain to prevent potentially damaging testimony against Arana. Fearing that they won't get a fair trial, Diaz's family members have asked the Organization of American States' human rights court to investigate the case.

"The obstruction of justice in this case has been unprecedented," Barrios said.

Among the victims was waiter Diogenes Meza, killed in 2003 after telling police that shortly after Diaz was kidnapped he had overheard Arana's brother-in-law say he was holding the mayor captive at his ranch and was awaiting instructions.

One of the biggest blows to the prosecution's case was the Dec. 23, 2008, killing of Munir Cadavid Haller, a boyhood friend of Diaz. He was a paramilitary commander who persuaded the mayor to meet with Arana, apparently not knowing he was helping set up the mayor's death.

Cadavid had come forward in recent months to tell police that paramilitary fighters looking to do Arana a favor had killed Diaz to end his constant public criticism and allegations that the governor was corrupt.

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chris.kraul@latimes.com

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