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Body of Medellin Cartel Leader Reburied

December 18, 1989 GMT

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ In a final, bizarre episode in the life and death of drug lord Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, his body was exhumed Sunday from a common grave and taken to his rural hometown, where thousands attended the reburial.

Security forces stalked billionaire Rodriguez Gacha for months before shooting and killing him, his 17-year-old son Freddy, and five bodyguards Friday in a gunfight near the Caribbean port of Covenas.

Authorities used public funds to bury the seven late Saturday in a common grave in Sincelejo, 320 miles north of Bogota.

The bodies of father and son were claimed by family members after being exhumed at their request. They were then flown to Bogota in a private plane and driven to Pacho, a rural town 25 miles from Bogota.

They were placed in luxurious, wooden coffins reportedly paid for by a brother of Rodriguez Gacha.

Thousands of townspeople attended the burials in the local cemetery.

Police units remained on alert in adjacent areas, and no incidents were reported.

Rodriguez Gacha, 42, was the most celebrated son of Pacho, hated or loved by most of its population of 20,000. He lavishly provided residents with money, personal favors and jobs, but demanded unquestioning cooperation in his drug dealings.

Sucre state Gov. Arturo Martinez said on Caracol radio network that Freddy’s mother claimed her son’s body from the common grave. He identified her as Luz Dari Celades, reportedly one of Rodriguez Gacha’s mistresses.

Two of Rodriguez Gacha’s brothers claimed the drug trafficker’s body, Martinez said. He did not give their names.

The judge in charge of the burial, Bienvenido Zuniga, agreed to open the common grave and give family members a chance to claim the bodies. He told the El Espectador newspaper that the only request for the bodies prior to the burial came from a funeral home in the city of Medellin, the hub of the country’s cocaine trade. He denied that request, El Espectador said.

Rodriguez Gacha, a billionaire who had set up private armies to protect both his cocaine business and his vast stretches of land in the country, was initially buried in a wooden coffin at a cost of $700 in public funds.

With the killing, President Virgilio Barco’s government appeared strengthened in its anti-drug offensive. Critics had said Colombian cocaine chiefs were impervious to attack.

The government’s success in tracking down Rodriguez Gacha drew praise from Colombian newspapers, which a week ago suggested Barco had all but lost his struggle against the traffickers.

The administration has extradited 10 middle-level traffickers to the United States as part of its crackdown, but has failed to track down any of the 12 traffickers most wanted by U.S. authorities.

Then came the raid on Rodriguez Gacha’s hideout. Police said the operation by more than 1,000 security force members, supported by seven helicopters, was the result of weeks of intelligence work.

Enrique Santos Calderon, a columnist for Bogota’s leading daily, El Tiempo, wrote that until Rodriguez Gacha’s death ″the war against the drug traffickers was viewed as going from bad to worse.″

″All of this changed with the death of Rodriguez,″ Santos wrote. ″The invulnerable image of the cartel chiefs has been shattered, while that of the public’s force has been strengthened.″

Alfonso Cano Isaza, a columnist for El Espectador, wrote that the government had taken the first step toward victory over ″the demented criminality of drug traffickers″ by killing Rodriguez Gacha.

The trafficker was accused of the 1986 killing of Cano’s brother, Guillermo Cano, El Espectador’s publisher.

Nationwide weekend violence killed 19 people, communiques said Sunday.

The army said two soldiers and eight members of an apparent right-wing death squad were killed Saturday in a clash near Otanche, an emerald mining town 65 miles north of Bogota.

Armed groups, including one directed by Rodriguez Gacha, have tried for years to take control of the mines.

Leftist guerrillas belonging to the Quintin Lame, which calls itself an Indian self-defense group, ambushed an anti-narcotics police patrol and killed three officers in a dynamite attack Saturday near Piendamo, 185 miles south of Bogota, police reported.

Guerrillas from another group, the National Liberation Army, killed one police officer and injured another in Aguachica, 280 miles north of the capital. One guerrilla was captured, Cesar state governor’s office said.

Gunmen on Saturday killed five civilians in a bar in Puerto Valdivia, 200 miles north of Bogota, Antioquia state governor’s office said. Authorities were trying to establish the motive.