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Colombian warlord pleads not guilty to drug trafficking

  • Story Highlights
  • Carlos Mario Jimenez is accused of conspiracy to distribute cocaine
  • Jimenez surrendered to Colombian authorities in December 2006
  • Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had pressed for his extradition to United States
  • If convicted of the U.S. charges, Jimenez faces 20 years to life in prison
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From Terry Frieden
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A leading Colombian paramilitary leader pleaded not guilty to drug-trafficking charges Wednesday in a U.S. court after his extradition from Colombia.

Carlos Mario Jimenez Naranjo is accused of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and providing aid to a narcoterrorist organization. He was whisked from the Colombian capital Bogota to the United States early Wednesday to face the charges in a federal court in Washington.

Appearing in a short-sleeve cotton shirt and slacks, Jimenez -- widely known in Colombia as "Macaco" -- quietly listened to the charges and showed no emotion as his court-appointed attorney entered the not-guilty plea. U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay ordered him held without bail pending a detention hearing Monday. An initial hearing before a trial judge has been set for May 23.

U.S. prosecutors say Jimenez was among the top leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a right-wing paramilitary army that the United States has designated a terrorist organization. His arm of the movement, known as the Bloque Central Bolivar, included up to 7,000 fighters who battled leftist insurgents in Colombia's decades-old civil war, according to the Justice Department.

Jimenez surrendered to Colombian authorities in December 2006 to face charges he had shipped tons of cocaine to the United States. He was extradited soon after a judicial panel in Bogota overturned a court ruling that blocked his transfer over issues related to the compensation of his alleged victims.

The extradition caused controversy in Colombia, where critics said paramilitary leaders should be forced first to serve time in Colombia and make reparations to their victims and their families.

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But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had pressed for the extradition because the government claimed Jimenez had continued to traffic in drugs while in prison.

"The government never negotiated the extradition, never permitted that the law governing extradition was weakened, never permitted the passage of constitutional reforms to weaken extradition," said Uribe. "The government has extradited more than 700 people."

Members of the Association of Relatives of Victims of the Paramilitaries, in Bogota, faulted the practice, particularly with regards to Jimenez.

"It's really a very hard blow for thousands of people in Colombia," said Ivan Cepeda. "This man is guilty of many forced disappearances, of having had important connections with political and economic sectors in many parts of the country. And now it is necessary to make extra effort to ensure that this justice and this truth can be obtained in other countries."

Several relatives said they were hoping that Jimenez might reveal information that would lead them to the bodies of their loved ones.

"Macaco had given me a little light of hope that he'd tell me where my dear ones were, but today we don't know what will happen," said Amparo Cano, a member of the victims' association.

"I take it with sadness and anger because they passed over the heads of the victims, and we have been the people most affected," said Alejandra Valbin, another member of the group.

If convicted of the U.S. charges, Jimenez faces 20 years to life in prison. He also faces federal drug trafficking charges in Miami, Florida, in a separate case.

CNN's Fernando Ramos contributed to this story from Bogota, Colombia.

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