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Police captured Colombia's most wanted drug lord, a former paramilitary fighter who had offered his gunmen a $1,000 reward for every policeman they killed.

Daniel Rendon Herrera, alias Don Mario, was surrounded and arrested today in the jungles of northern Antioquia province, from where his gang smuggled tonnes of cocaine from the Caribbean coast toward the United States, officials said.

Colombia had offered a $2-million (U.S.) reward for information leading to the capture of Rendon Herrera, who is wanted by the United States on drug trafficking charges.

As authorities closed in on his smuggling operation earlier this year, Mr. Rendon Herrera offered his gunmen $1,000 (U.S.) for every officer they murdered.

His ruthless style recalled that of Colombia's most infamous drug baron Pablo Escobar, who waged an all-out war against the state in the 1980s until he was gunned down by security forces on a Medellin rooftop in 1993.

"Don Mario was the most important drug trafficker out there, but someone will take his place very quickly and it will be business as usual," said Bogota-based security consultant Pablo Casas.

"His organization is as well structured as any company, where the CEO can be replaced at any time," Mr. Casas said.

Mr. Rendon Herrera has been charged by U.S. authorities, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said in Washington. The spokesman was unable to say when or whether his extradition would be sought by the United States.

Mr. Rendon Herrera belonged to one of the paramilitary groups that began demobilizing after a 2003 peace deal with the government, but he refused to confess his crimes as required under the accord and went into hiding.

He is the brother of a jailed paramilitary warlord known as "El Aleman," or "The German," a nick-name he earned for his reputation of enforcing strict discipline among his troops.

Mr. Rendon Herrera is accused of running cocaine trafficking in the area controlled by his brother in the 1990s, when right-wing paramilitaries battled leftist guerrillas for control of rural Colombia.

The South American country, the largest cocaine producer in the world, has become less violent under President Alvaro Uribe, who has used billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to battle the guerrillas and disarm the paramilitaries.

Much of the cocaine is smuggled to the United States through Mexico, where thousands of people have died in the last year in a wave of violence spawned by Mexican cartels that have steadily taken over from Colombian gangs as the dominant drug traffickers in the Americas.

Colombia continues to export about 600 tonnes of cocaine every year and law enforcement efforts have done little to reduce production, according to the United Nations.

The Uribe government nonetheless hailed his capture as a major victory for law and order. "This is good news for the security of all Colombians and bolsters democracy," Uribe's press spokesman Cesar Velasquez said in a statement.

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