BOGOTA, Jan 23 (Reuters) - One of Colombia’s most-wanted drug lords has offered his gunmen nearly $1,000 for every police officer they murder in a major coca-growing region, a senior official said on Friday.
National police chief Gen. Oscar Naranjo said Daniel Rendon, known as Don Mario, had made the offer in a bid to halt police operations targeting his drug trafficking ring and coca crops in the hills of Antioquia province.
"When a criminal gives an order like Don Mario‘s, to pay two million pesos for the death of each and every one of my police officers, I know my officers are fulfilling their duties," Naranjo told local television.
Colombia’s most infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was shot dead by security forces in 1993, used a similar strategy in the 1990s and his hired gunmen killed dozens of police officers in Medellin, Antioquia’s main city.
Rendon is one of the three most-wanted drug traffickers in the Andean country, the world’s biggest cocaine producer, and authorities are offering a reward of up to $2.2 million for information leading to his capture.
He belonged to one of the paramilitary groups that began demobilizing after a 2003 peace deal with the government of President Alvaro Uribe, but he refused to confess his crimes as required under the accord and went into hiding.
Early last year, Rendon’s group kidnapped 25 men he had accused rivals of sending to kill him in a turf war.
Uribe has sent troops to secure areas once controlled by armed groups and violence has ebbed, but leftist rebels and former paramilitaries still battle for control of the nation’s vast cocaine trade. ($1 = 2,293 Colombian pesos) (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Helen Popper)