Paramilitary chief held back forces and arms to maintain control over drugs: Report

"Don Berna"

Top paramilitary commander and Medellin crime lord “Don Berna” reserved men and arms to keep control of criminal activity while in a 2005 event he was officially demobilizing forces, according to a report by El Tiempo.

Several testimonies from demobilized paramilitary soldiers, obtained by the Tribunal of Peace and Justice of Medellin, have claimed that Diego Fernando Murillo, alias ‘Don Berna,’ placed at least 40 of the most dangerous men from the Bloque Heroes de Tolova and their best weapons under the command of his cousin in the northern state of Cordoba. The rest of the members of the group, along with the older arms, were handed over to authorities to be processed according to the 2005 Justice and Peace Law.

The authorities believe, citing evidence from intercepted phone calls, that Berna continued to lead the group even after his incarceration in the prison of Itagui.

This group of men grew and eventually became known as Los Traquetos, a band mostly involved in narcotrafficking which, according to testimony of its former leader Uber Dario Yañez Cavadias obtained by the tribunal, enjoyed the support of the mayor of Valencia, Cordoba, in addition to military units and local police.

A judge from the tribunal claimed that Don Berna had not acted in “good faith” in agreeing to demobilize, as part of his group continued to exercise control in the same areas held before demobilizing and continued trafficking drugs, “one of the principal criminal activities of the group, if not the main one.” Evidence of extortion of displaced persons by those not demobilized is also reported to be in the possession of the tribunal.

Other irregularities in the process of the demobilization of Berna’s group have also been reported.

Last year, Semana obtained testimonies of former paramilitary leaders, including that of Berna himself, that they had been specifically asked by ex-President Alvaro Uribe‘s Peace Commissioner, Luis Carlos Restrepo, to not include minors in the demobilization process. They also claim he ordered the murders of guerrilla and paramilitary leaders who refused to demobilize.

Restrepo fled the country two years to avoid charges related to these irregularities and fake demobilizations. He was reportedly just given asylum in Canada.

MORE: Canada grants asylum to Colombia’s former peace commissioner: Report

According to a June 2005 cable from the US embassy in Colombia obtained by Wikileaks, Berna also promised the government that he would demobilize 4,000 men, but the real figure was actually lower.

Berna has repeatedly caused controversy from his prison cell over repeated confessions to having worked closely with former President Uribe’s administration, including even donating $1 million to his campaign for president in 2002.

MORE: Former paramilitary leader confirms donations to Uribe’s political campaigns

He also claimed to have aided the now-defunct DAS intelligence agency in its quest to discredit Uribe’s political opponents, journalists, human rights workers, and Supreme Court judges.

Before officially joining the ranks of the AUC in 1997, Berna had operated with several illegal groups. He belonged to the guerilla organization know as the Ejercito Popular de Liberacion (EPL), later becoming associated with the infamous Medellin cartel.

A falling out with Pablo Escobar led him the join forces with the Castaño brothers’ Los Pepes. He headed up Medellin’s Oficina de Evigado before joining up again with the Castaño brothers after they from the AUC paramilitary group in 1997.

Sources

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