Colombia's president says the notorious Golfo Clan is ready to disband after a 25-year campaign of drug-related violence. The country has recently signed a peace deal with FARC guerillas and a truce with ELN rebels.
Colombia's most powerful drug trafficking gang is ready to turn itself in as the country attempts to brush off five decades of armed conflict and lawlessness, President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Tuesday.
"We received an expression of willingness by the head of the Golfo Clan to turn themselves in, to submit to justice," Santos said at an event in Bogota. "I have asked the justice minister and the attorney general to evaluate it."
The message came a day after the Colombian government signed a ceasefire deal with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the lesser known counterpart to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who recently laid down their arms to transition into mainstream politics.
Drug gang under pressure
The surrender offer was sent by Golfo Clan's chief Dairo Usuga, who has spent his life on the run with a $5 million bounty on his head. The request came following last week's killing by the army of Golfo's second-in-command, Roberto Vargas, in a shootout.
Santos added that the government would not negotiate with the gang, because unlike politically motivated rebel groups like the FARC and ELN who have renounced their campaign of violence, the clan's members are criminals.
Usaga has sent authorities a document that his clan would likely make public soon, the country's vice president said.
Pope Francis arrives in Colombia on Tuesday for a five-day visit just as the country is transitioning to peace
A video was shown on local media showing a Golfo member confirming the surrender offer.
"We respect the peace processes that have been agreed or are in progress with Juan Manuel Santos' government," the representative said. "We want to be part of the end of the conflict and have a complete disarming of all armed groups in the country."
Links to Mexican cartels
The Golfo Clan is Colombia's largest drug-trafficking organization. With around 2,000 members, it is accused of working in partnership with Mexico's notorious drug cartels, and is also suspected of illegal gold mining. It is infamous for a series of police officer assassinations in the South American country.
The group was formed in 2001 by former right-wing paramilitaries who opposed leftist armed groups including the FARC and ELN during a conflict that has wracked the South American country since the 1960s. More than 200,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by the fighting.
The FARC, who signed a peace deal with the government last year, laid down its arms three months ago to become a leftist political party. The FARC will keep its acronym and take up 10 seats in the country's national assembly.
The ELN has continued its campaign of kidnappings, which it uses to raise funds. But it's hoped Monday's ceasefire agreement, which will last three months, will allow long-term peace talks to proceed.
On Tuesday, Pope Francis will begin a five-day visit to Colombia to see for himself the progress made towards peace.
mm/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)