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U.S. requests extradition of top Colombian paramilitary warlord

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) The United States on Thursday formally requested the extradition of the man considered Colombia's most brutal paramilitary warlord, indicted for conspiracy to import tons of cocaine into the United States.

Diego Murillo, who also faces murder charges, is a leader of the outlawed United Self-Defense Forces. He also allegedly ran a team of assassins used by Pablo Escobar's now-defunct Medellin cocaine cartel.

He was indicted by a federal court in New York in July 2004 for the drug charges.

''We remain committed to investigating, prosecuting and extraditing the most powerful and violent Colombian drug lords who destabilize their own country and send poison to the United States,'' U.S. Attorney David N. Kelley said in a statement.

The U.S. indictment states that he ''is the de facto leader of the AUC, in charge of its narcotics-trafficking activities, including all of its cocaine transportation and financial operations.''

President Alvaro Uribe's office had no immediate comment. However, he was unlikely to immediately agree to the extradition request, because Murillo is currently involved in peace talks with the government aimed at disbanding the 13,000-strong AUC and end its two-decade dirty war against leftist rebels.

Uribe ordered Murillo's arrest May 27 for his alleged role in the April kidnapping and killing of Cordoba state lawmaker Orlando Benitez, Benitez's sister and an aide.

Due to Murillo's participation in the disarmament talks, Uribe decided against sending him to jail. He is being held under armed guard at a ranch house in his northwestern fiefdom where he is able to coordinate the demobilization of his troops.

The paramilitary factions were formed in the 1980s by wealthy ranchers and drug traffickers to guard their property against the rebels but have been blamed some of the worst massacres in Colombia's civil war, which claims more than 3,000 lives every year.

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