BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia has asked the United States to extradite former paramilitary boss Salvatore Mancuso to the Andean country and will seek international help to bring him to justice if he is sent to Italy, President Ivan Duque said on Thursday.
Mancuso, who is accused of war crimes and violating human rights, is in custody in the United States, where he was convicted of drug trafficking following his extradition along with other paramilitary leaders in 2008.
The former paramilitary boss’ lawyers are seeking his deportation to Italy, where he also has citizenship and faces additional drug-trafficking charges.
“Salvatore Mancuso owes serious debts to the Colombian justice system, for which I have requested his extradition. If he is deported to Italy, we will follow the principles of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity. His crimes will not go unpunished,” Duque said via his Twitter account.
Mancuso, 56, is accused of being involved in thousands of crimes that took place during Colombia’s internal armed conflict and was one of the main leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the country’s main paramilitary group.
Far-right paramilitary units surged in the 1980s with support from farmers, land owners and others who sought to defend themselves from attacks by leftist guerrillas amid state absence.
The groups were taken over by powerful drug traffickers and converted into feared organizations responsible for hundreds of assassinations and massacres.
Although Mancuso has promised to confess what happened during his involvement in Colombia’s conflict, which has left more than 260,000 dead, his lawyer in the United States recently said he should not be locked up because he took part in a 2005 peace deal that allowed paramilitary groups to demobilize.