- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

MARANDUA, Colombia — After a 2-1/2 month manhunt employing some 3,300 soldiers and at least 13 combat helicopters, the Colombian army says it has captured Brazilian cocaine kingpin Luis Fernando da Costa in the jungles of eastern Colombia.
U.S. lawmakers and Bush administration officials called for stepped up efforts to apprehend Mr. da Costa after The Washington Times reported in March the discovery of documents, testimony, and receipts showing a drug-running relationship between him and Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Colombian authorities said yesterday that Mr. da Costa will be extradited to Brazil, where he faces multiple charges of murder, drug trafficking, arms trafficking and money laundering.
Brazilian authorities have linked Mr. da Costa to at least 10 murders, and say he controls more than 60 percent of the Brazilian drug trade.
Mr. da Costas seizure was part of the Colombian militarys Operation Gato Negro (Black Cat).
"This is a very important operation," Defense Minister Luis Fernando Ramirez said Sunday, the day after Mr. da Costas arrest. Mr. Ramirez was joined by the military high command at a news conference at the sun-baked Marandua air force base in eastern Vichada province, about 60 miles from the Venezuelan border.
"This operation is going to deliver a very serious blow to the finances of the FARC. It takes away fuel from the war in Colombia. If we weaken the revenues of drug trafficking, indirectly, but effectively, we are draining away the gasoline that fuels the Colombian conflict," he said.
Gen. Fernando Tapias Stahelin, chief of the Colombian military, said, "It has been shown that the FARC has been receiving $10 million a month from narcotics activity with these groups."
"According to the capacity of the (seven) cocaine 'crystalizer laboratories found (and destroyed during the operation), 20 to 22 tons of cocaine were produced each month."
Mr. Ramirez said the drug operation headed by Mr. da Costa, also known by his aliases "Fernandinho" and "Alvaro," is one of the most important cocaine cartels discovered by authorities since the fall of the Medellin and Cali cartels.
Mr. da Costa is reported to have escaped in the mid-1990s from a Brazilian prison, where he was serving sentences for narcotics and other crimes.
Law enforcement officials say he found refuge with the FARC's 16th Front in eastern Colombia, where he based himself in the village of Barrancomina.
Residents and people associated with the drug trade in the Barrancomina area told The Washington Times that Mr. da Costa, known there as "Alvaro," had worked in partnership with the commander of the FARCs 16th Front, "El Negro Acacio," whose legal name is believed by authorities to be Tomas Medina Caracas.
Paraded before the press at the Marandua base Sunday along with two other suspects accused of aiding his flight from justice, Mr. da Costa, speaking Portuguese, insisted he was just a farmer and rancher.
The Colombian armys Rapid Deployment Force entered Barrancomina Feb. 12 and nearly captured Mr. da Costa at a nearby farm later that month, wounding him in the right arm.
After making his way overland for dozens of miles, Mr. da Costa boarded a small plane with several associates on April 19, Army officers said. One of his colleagues was identified as the 16th Fronts chief finance manager and an important FARC cocaine- and gun-running link.
The plane was intercepted by the Colombian air force that day and forced to land, said Col. Jose Domingo Tafur, the executive officer of the Rapid Deployment Force. All the occupants, except the pilot, fled into the jungle.
Two days later, troops captured Mr. da Costa when he came out of the jungle to drink water from a stream.
Major Juan Pablo Franco, who was with the capturing force, said Mr. da Costa tried to bribe him by saying he could transfer money into his bank account via a satellite phone call.

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