IMAGE: DIEGO MURILLO
El Tiempo  /  AP file
Diego Fernando Murillo, center, surrenders in Santa Fe de Ralito, Colombia, on May 27, 2005.
updated 6/17/2008 2:36:11 PM ET 2008-06-17T18:36:11

One of Colombia's most notorious warlords pleaded guilty Tuesday to drug smuggling charges that could put him in a U.S. prison for the next three decades.

Diego Murillo, formerly a top commander in the right-wing paramilitary group, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, entered the surprise plea Tuesday in federal court in New York City, just 35 days after arriving on U.S. soil.

Speaking through an interpreter, he pleaded guilty to an indictment that accused him of conspiring to smuggle tons of cocaine into the United States.

As a condition of Murillo's extradition to the United States, prosecutors had assured the Colombian government that they would not seek a life sentence; the plea agreement calls for him to serve between 27 and 33 years in prison.

Murillo, 47, said little during his court hearing, but acknowledged through an interpreter that he conspired with "military, political and anti-communist" forces to distribute cocaine in the United States.

The warlord was one of 14 paramilitary leaders taken from Colombian jails and extradited to the United States last month to face drug charges.

Human rights groups also blame Murillo for hundreds of murders in Colombia, some occurring while he was a top leader of the paramilitary group AUC, and some during a long career in organized crime that stretched back to the days of Pablo Escobar.

Murillo's lawyer, Paul Nalven, said during the hearing that arrangements would be made for special prosecutors from Colombia to try to interview Murillo in the United States about his alleged human rights violations.

Murillo is slated to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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