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Former warlord killed in Colombia

BOGOT -- Gunmen in a coastal Colombian city killed a former right-wing paramilitary leader who objected to the militia's involvement in drug trafficking, police said yesterday.

Carlos Mauricio Garcia, also known as ''Rodrigo" or ''Double Zero," was shot in the head five times as he left a Santa Marta supermarket Friday night, police Colonel Oscar Gamboa said. No arrests have been made.

In an e-mail to a reporter earlier this month, Garcia said drug traffickers within the paramilitary group led by Diego Fernando Murillo wanted him dead.

''You can use my name" in the article, he wrote. ''Because what else can happen to me? Will they want to kill me more times or with more intensity or with a bigger gun?"

Garcia was killed a month after the disappearance of Carlos Castano, the former top commander of the paramilitaries' umbrella group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish initials, AUC. Castano, who is presumed dead by many observers, is wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges, but during the past year he publicly condemned militia members who continued to traffic in drugs.

The paramilitary groups sprung up in the 1980s to fight leftist guerrillas, including the country's main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. But the right-wing paramilitaries, originally financed by ranchers seeking protection from rebels, quickly wound up waging their own war of killings and massacres and got involved in drug trafficking.

Garcia led a paramilitary group based in Medelln known as the Metro Bloc, which battled leftist rebels in poor neighborhoods in Colombia's second-largest city. Last year the Metro Bloc was defeated by another paramilitary group, led by Murillo, which allegedly is heavily involved in drug trafficking.

Murillo was associated with Pablo Escobar before the Medelln drug cartel chieftain was slain by police in 1993.

Garcia was a harsh critic of government plans, announced earlier this month, to establish a haven in a paramilitary stronghold in northwestern Colombia as a site for peace talks with the leaders of the AUC in hopes of disarming about 12,000 fighters.

Garcia was a former Colombian Army commander who was forced to quit in the '80s amid accusations of human rights abuses. He was killed in the tourist section of Santa Marta, about 450 miles north of the capital, Bogot. An unidentified woman with him was not hurt.

Colombia's rebel conflict, now in its fourth decade, pits the government against paramilitary fighters, the FARC, and a smaller leftist group. About 3,500 people die each year in the fighting.

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