BOGOTA, COLOMBIA, JAN. 6 -- Colombia issued arrest warrants yesterday for five men reputed to be the country's top drug smugglers, including Jorge Luis Ochoa, whose release from jail last week prompted strong protests from Washington.
The order called for the preventive detention of the five with the intention of extraditing them to the United States. The decision, announced in a Justice Ministry communique, was made after news reports said the United States was slowing the entry of Colombian travelers and goods in retaliation for Ochoa's release last Wednesday from a Bogota prison.
The five, including three Ochoa brothers, are said to head the Medellin narcotics cartel and are sought in the United States on drug smuggling and other charges.
Besides Jorge Luis Ochoa, the arrest order includes his brothers Juan David and Fabio, Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha and Pablo Escobar Gaviria.
It was not immediately clear if the arrests were ordered simply to pacify Washington since their whereabouts are unknown and the 1979 U.S.-Colombian extradition treaty has been struck down by the Supreme Court here.
The five suspects went underground in 1984 when the previous government launched an offensive against drug traffickers in connection with the assassination of Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla.
Escobar Gaviria is considered the latest chief of the Medellin Cartel, which is held responsible for more than 70 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States.
Yesterday's warrants, issued after a meeting of President Virgilio Barco with the foreign and justice ministers, would be effective only if a new Colombian-U.S. extradition mechanism could be devised. Discreet talks have taken place on how to revive the treaty.
When Jorge Luis Ochoa was captured by chance at a roadblock last November, the Justice Ministry reluctantly concluded that there was no legal basis for sending him to be tried in the United States. He had served one of 20 months in jail for smuggling fighting bulls when the judge ordered his release.
The State Department strongly protested when Ochoa was set free and the United States has offered a $500,000 reward for his recapture.