Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia militia boss 'Martin Llanos' confesses murders

Martin Llanos escorted by Venezuelan soldiers in February 2012
Image caption Martin Llanos was taken to Colombia after his arrest in Venezuela in February

A paramilitary leader in Colombia has confessed to participating in a massacre by the far right-wing United Self Defence Forces, officials say.

The man, known by the alias Martin Llanos, said he took part in brutal killings in Mapiripan village in 1997.

The number of those murdered remains unclear as many of the bodies were cut up and thrown into a nearby river.

Massacres by militias were not uncommon as they killed people suspected of supporting left-wing groups.

'Family business'

Llanos, whose real name is Hector German Buitrago, admitted before prosecutors his role in the killings, a statement from the Colombian Attorney General's Office said.

He had been arrested with his brother in neighbouring Venezuela in February.

Llanos was the head of a unit of the paramilitary United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) in eastern Colombia in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

After a bloody rivalry with another paramilitary group in the area, Llanos fled to Venezuela.

At the time of his arrest, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Llanos had played "the leading role in one of the bloodiest wars in the Llanos Orientales (region) and left hundreds, I'd say thousands, of victims".

He grew up in eastern Colombia at a time when left-wing Farc rebels controlled large swathes of the area and extorted local landowners for "war contributions".

Llanos took over the leadership of a paramilitary group previously led by his father and expanded its power over much of the eastern plains in Meta province.

In July 1997, his paramilitary group moved into the village of Mapiripan and killed an undetermined number of residents, whom they suspected of supporting the Farc rebels.

Following his confession, Martin Llanos's case will now be handed over to a judge in the city of Villavicencio for sentencing.

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