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Video shows link with paramilitary boss

Colombia's president repeatedly denied the association.

Published June 18, 2007


BARRANCABERMEJA, Colombia - In his five years as president, Alvaro Uribe has repeatedly denied accusations that he has been cozy with Colombia's murderous right-wing militias, whose thousands of victims include suspected rebel sympathizers and union activists.

Newly uncovered video of his 2001 campaign shows him shaking hands with a militia leader who was arrested only weeks later on suspicion of involvement in multiple murders, and is now a fugitive.

The video showing Uribe with leaders of this conflict-ravaged city is the latest headache for the law-and-order president, who has seen one ally after another jailed for allegedly colluding with the outlawed militias.

"I haven't known the paramilitaries, haven't been friends with them, haven't had contact with them, " Uribe declared on national television on April 19.

The militia chief in the video, which bears an Oct. 31, 2001, time stamp, was identified by three people familiar with him as Fremio Sanchez Carreno, better known as "Comandante Esteban, " who had just finished spearheading the bloody militia takeover of this oil-refining city on Colombia's main river when Uribe met with him and about a dozen other people.

The Associated Press obtained the video from a person who would like to see Uribe toppled.

While the video does not show Uribe speaking with Sanchez, the image of them together in a private meeting further enmeshes the president in a scandal that has alarmed congressional Democrats, who want to cut some of Colombia's $600-million in annual military aid.

[Last modified June 18, 2007, 01:10:45]

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