Salvatore Mancuso

The former boss of a feared Colombian paramilitary group arrived back in the country on Tuesday after serving a 16-year jail term in the United States, and will participate in the country's ongoing peace process with armed groups, migration authorities said.

Salvatore Mancuso, 59, descended from a plane in handcuffs and wearing a bulletproof vest, but smiling, after completing his sentence for conspiracy to traffic cocaine.

Colombia's migration agency said on social media that Mancuso had arrived on a "deportation flight" and was handed over to police.

Last year, leftist President Gustavo Petro asked that he be extradited after finishing his sentence so that he could serve as a "peace manager" in the government's negotiations with various armed groups in the South American nation.

Fernando Garcia, the director of Migration Colombia, welcomed Mancuso "based on his commitment to peace, reconciliation and non-repetition" of his crimes, according to a post on X, formerly Twitter.

"Mancuso accepted his appointment as peace manager within the National Government's #TotalPeace program, which includes reconciliation with all actors in the conflict, and humanitarian work."

Colombian-Italian Mancuso was the leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) which laid down arms in 2006, confessed to crimes and agreed to compensate victims.

He still has to answer to the Colombian justice system for hundreds of disappearances and homicides committed by the AUC, an association of right-wing paramilitaries that fought against leftist guerrillas.

His lawyers say he will be detained at a police facility. However, he could be released at Petro's request to take up the as-yet undefined job in the peace process.

Since his election in 2022, Petro has sought to put an end to six decades of fighting that has drawn in the country's security forces, guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs.

Mancuso has since last year been collaborating with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a court set up after a 2016 peace deal between the government and the once-powerful FARC insurgent group to try the worst crimes committed during the conflict.

"I make myself available to both the national government and the armed organizations that seek dialogue with it... to accompany the peace talks that are necessary, no matter how complex they may be," Mancuso said in a statement published by local media.

He was extradited to the United States in 2008 by former rightwing president Alvaro Uribe, who led an implacable military campaign against leftist insurgents and drug cartels.

From prison, Mancuso has threatened to expose ties between paramilitary groups, politicians and businessmen. In particular, he implicated Uribe in a paramilitary massacre in 1997.

The former leader has denied any involvement.