BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Colombia extradited 14 top paramilitary warlords - many of them wanted on drug-trafficking charges - to the United States on Tuesday, saying they failed to comply with the peace pact under which they demobilized.
Those extradited in the surprise pre-dawn operation were among the illegal militias' top leadership - including Salvatore Mancuso, commander of their umbrella group, Interior Minister Carlos Holguin said.
The warlords, who prosecutors blame for some of modern Colombia's worst atrocities, were extradited because "they were committing crimes and reorganizing criminal structures" from prison, Holguin told Caracol radio.
Under the 2003 pact, the far-right Colombian militia leaders were supposed to confess to all their crimes, surrender their ill-gotten riches and promise to stop committing crimes in exchange for reduced jail terms and protection from extradition.
Relatives of their victims complained however that shipping them to the United States will make it more difficult to obtain justice and secure reparations for thousands of families. A tenth of Colombia's congress, including many close allies of President Alvaro Uribe, have been jailed for allegedly colluding with the warlords.
Holguin did not provide details on the charges the 14 face in the United States.
At least four are known to be wanted on drug-trafficking charges, including Diego Murillo, a longtime reputed drug lord known as "Don Berna," and Rodrigo Tovar, a military officer's son who went by the nom de guerre of Jorge 40.
Ivan Cepeda, head of Colombia's main victims' rights group, said it's very possible the extradited warlords will negotiate reduced jail terms in the United States and evade responsibility for massacres and other crimes.
The militias grew out of self-defense forces formed by wealthy ranchers in the 1980s to counter leftist rebel extortion and kidnapping. They seized much of the Caribbean coast in the late 1990s, killing thousands and stealing millions of acres of land while wresting control of lucrative drug-trafficking routes.
The U.S. government declared the United Defense Forces of Colombia, the paramilitary umbrella organization, a terrorist group in 2001. Uribe was elected to his first term the following year.
Colombia last week extradited jailed paramilitary boss Carlos Mario Jimenez, known as Macaco, accusing him of continuing to run his drug gangs from behind bars.
Jimenez had been among the least cooperative in confessing to his crimes, and his extradition followed a court challenge by victims who argued it would help him evade justice.
Several of the warlords, anticipating their extradition, have already obtained defense lawyers in the United States.
Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera and Tatiana Guerrero contributed to this report.