Three months into Colombia’s largest manhunt since Pablo Escobar, police said Sunday that authorities are “right behind” “Otoniel,” the elusive boss of the neo-paramilitary Urabeños group.
A successful arrest of more than 70 alleged Urabeños members spanned six different Colombian states in an offensive that was launched in February, with a large number found in municipalities of Uraba.
However, the elusive gang leader known as “Otoniel” remains on the run.
“Let’s say that we have still not been able to capture him,” Colombia’s Head of Police Rodolfo Palomino said on Sunday.
“However, we have had confrontations in which individuals who make part of his personal security have been captured or killed,” the official told El Espectador.
“We have reached places where we know the boss has stayed. Today, Otoniel is on the run, trying not to stay more than two nights in one place. We are right behind him.”
“I would say that sooner or later we have to catch up with him,” Palomino assured.
“I think the criminals, as our president has noted, have two choices: submit to justice or face the reality of capture,” said Palomino.
“What the police are doing is continuing to combat them, reaching their camps, as we are doing right now in Uraba,” the police boss explained.
The hunt for Ontoniel has left the Colombian government desperately undertaking “The Siege of Uraba” since the middle of February, with soldiers and policemen combing through the jungles and villages of northeastern Colombia.
“There, in an operation lasting more than 70 days, we have achieved more than 215 captures and the seizure of more than six tons of cocaine,” said Palomino.
Regarding the concern of whether alleged Urabeños leader, known only by his alias, has taken refuge in other countries, the United States has also offered a $2.5 million reward for his capture, seeking to try him for drug trafficking.
“The processes that exist here for Otoniel in Colombia are one thing, those in the United States are another,” informed Palomino.
“He does not only have an extradition request, but the US authorities offer a reward of $2.5 million for his capture,” Palomino stated, further adding that his capture in the US would make for a separate process of justice than if it is in Colombia.
“I think a minimum sentence for offenses committed by a man like ‘Otoniel’, cannot be less than 20 years,” said Palomino, as “the future behavior of an offender is unknown; anything can happen.”
Otoniel was a mid-level commander of paramilitary group AUC when it demobilized between 2003 and 2006. However, instead of surrendering his weapons, the paramilitary joined his AUC superior, “Don Mario,” in forming the Urabeños — officially called the Gaitanista Self-Defense Force — and overtaking the drug routes left unattended by the demobilized paramilitary organization.
Since then, the Urabeños has grown to have some 3,000 men in armed. Their control over the trade of cocaine, generally obtained from other groups like the FARC or the Oficina de Envigado, has gone virtually unchallenged.
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