Not one ERPAC member arrested after surprise release

The mass demobilization of members of neo-paramilitary group ERPAC has become a nightmare for the Colombian government as none of the 267 members have been arrested after their surprise release Friday.

According to newspaper El Espectador, authorities have issued arrest warrants for all but two alleged members of the arms and drug trafficking organization.

The suspected neo-paramilitaries face charges for conspiracy, the newspaper reported.

According to newspaper El Tiempo, prosecution investigators and police in the city of Villavicencio where the demobilization took place are looking for the demobilized members, but not one arrest has been made.

The failure to detain the suspected members of ERPAC has led to fierce criticism on the government.

According to Colombian conflict analyst Leon Valencia, the demobilization was nothing but a “media show” and according to Washington-based organized crime investigator Steven Dudley, the Colombian authorities show no interest in providing justice and peace.

“The fact that over 200 ERPAC members were simply set free illustrates that the government is not interested in following through on keeping the peace or prosecuting those members for their crimes,” Dudley told Colombia Reports.

“After nearly seven years of demobilizing paramilitary forces, you would think the government would have a solid and reliable system in place to handle a mass handover. It not only does not have a system, it appears as if it is not interested in setting one up,” the journalist said.

On organized crime website InSight Crime, Dudley wrote “The handover this holiday weekend appeared to be an effort to take advantage of the expiring ‘Justice and Peace Law’. The controversial law was adopted in 2004 and was designed to open the door for paramilitaries to submit to justice, but it has been used by large criminal groups to shield themselves from prosecution for criminal acts ranging from extortion to drug trafficking, to wholesale murder and displacement.”

Dudley told Colombia Reports that “the mass handover of the ERPAC illustrates just how shallow and meaningless the Justice and Peace Law is. The law was meant to work for both peace and justice, and with processes like the ERPAC we can find neither peace nor justice.”

Colombia’s government has denied all blame in the growing controversy, claiming it provided only logistical support to the demobilization while judicial authorities were in charge of the prosecution. According to the director of prosecution offices, there exists no legal framework to detain the alleged neo-paramilitaries at their demobilization and detaining them would have been illegal.

Of the estimated 1,200 members of the neo-paramilitary organization, ERPAC leader “Cachoro” announced he was negotiating the demobilization of 450 in August. Of the 284 that turned up, only 17 were arrested on sight. The rest were sent away.

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