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MAS­SACRES, as­sas­si­na­tions, kid­nap­pings and tor­ture – it was all in a day’s work for the AUC.

An um­brella group made up of re­gional far-right para­mil­i­tary units in Colom­bia, the AUC was formed in 1997, with each arm de­ter­mined to pro­tect its area’s eco­nomic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests from left-wing in­sur­gents – some­thing they said the state had failed to do.

Con­sid­er­ing it was set up by drug-traf­fick­ers, it’s no sur­prise the 31,000-strong army devel­oped into one of the world’s most vi­o­lent gangs.

The AUC says it only took up arms to de­fend it­self against guer­rilla armies, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia (FARC) and the Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army (ELN).

But the Euro­pean Union and US De­part­ment Of State claim the AUC is ev­ery bit as deadly as its en­e­mies – and all three or­gan­i­sa­tions are deemed ter­ror­ist threats.

Colom­bian Na­tional Po­lice credit the AUC with 804 as­sas­si­na­tions, 203 kid­nap­pings and 75 mas­sacres with 507 vic­tims – all in the first 10 months of 2000.

Oth­ers say the unit was also re­spon­si­ble for a fur­ther 204 un­savoury in­ci­dents in 2004, in­clud­ing mur­ders, kid­nap­pings, rape, in­tim­i­da­tion and loot­ing.

As well as tar­get­ing lefty civil­ians, the AUC also killed sev­eral trade union­ists and swept through in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in a hur­ri­cane of vi­o­lence.

In gen­eral, the vi­o­lence ended in 2003, when the AUC signed a peace deal and its lead­ers sur­ren­dered in ex­change for re­duced jail terms and pro­tec­tion from ex­tra­di­tion.

But since 2008, at least 12 of the AUC’s head hon­chos have been ex­tra­dited to the US to face drug-traf­fick­ing charges for vi­o­lat­ing terms of the agree­ment.

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