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Colombian Warlord Ready to Turn Himself to US Authorities

In Colombia, rightwing paramilitary warlord Carlos Castano says he is preparing to turn himself over to U.S. authorities to stand trial on drug smuggling charges. The fugitive guerrilla commander is also setting some conditions for his voluntary surrender.

In a telephone interview with Colombian radio station RCN, Mr. Castano again insisted he is innocent and expressed confidence that he would be able to prove his innocence if given a fair trial.

The flamboyant warlord also asked for equal treatment for other insurgents accused of drug-trafficking.

He said that if there is no extradition request for the leaders of leftist guerrilla groups, then he will have to assume his own indictment is the result of a deal struck between the United States and the main rebel group, the Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC.

Both the FARC and another smaller leftist rebel group have used the drug trade to finance their military operations. Mr. Castano admits that some rightist paramilitary groups have also engaged in drug smuggling, but he says he has opposed it.

Colombia's Interior Minister, Fernando Londono says he believes the United States will also seek the arrest of FARC leaders.

He says that if U.S. policy is to be coherent, then he would expect, very soon, a request for extradition for the FARC commanders and the entire secretariat of the rebel group.

Unlike Mr. Castano, however, it is unlikely the FARC commanders would surrender and agree to be extradited. They have been engaged in a civil war against the Colombian central government for 38 years. Attempts to end the war through a negotiated settlement broke down in February and frustration with the war was cited as a prime reason voters chose tough-talking Alvaro Uribe in May's presidential election.

In the radio interview Wednesday, Carlos Castano said he is negotiating the terms of his surrender and asking for protection for his two children, who he said would be at risk if they remain behind in Colombia. Mr. Castano's second wife is pregnant and is expecting to give birth in December.

Mr. Castano said his attorney is meeting with U.S. officials in Washington to work out the specific details of his surrender. However, the State Department says it has not been contacted by the Colombian warlord's representatives and Justice Department officials have scoffed at Mr. Castano's claims of innocence.