updated 10/31/2005 9:47:47 PM ET 2005-11-01T02:47:47

The head of intelligence for Colombia’s secret police has resigned, the third top official to leave over the department’s alleged links to anti-rebel paramilitary groups, authorities said Monday.

Enrique Ariza, who has headed the Special Intelligence Group in the agency known as DAS for the past 11 years, resigned over the weekend, said DAS spokesman Oscar Galvis.

The resignation came just days after DAS chief Jorge Noguera quit and his deputy director, Jose Miguel Narvaez, was fired.

The departures follow reports that surfaced earlier this month of DAS ties to the illegal group. Narvaez went to the Colombian attorney general’s office with information allegedly showing that DAS officials including Noguera and Ariza were dealing with paramilitary groups, said a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.

The information pointed to plans by DAS officials to sell phone-tapping equipment to paramilitary chieftains that they could use to track police activity, said the attorney general’s office spokesman, who only speaks to reporters on condition of anonymity as a policy.

Armed paramilitary groups were formed by wealthy ranchers two decades ago as an unregulated right-wing vigilante force to attack leftist guerrillas that have been fighting the government since the 1960s. Human rights groups have long claimed government agencies work closely with the paramilitaries to fight the rebels, a charge the government strongly denies.

The paramilitary groups’ umbrella organization, the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, is involved in a peace process with the government, but remains involved in drug trafficking and other illegal operations.

Denying the accusations
In an interview in this week’s respected news weekly Semana, Noguera said the charges made by Narvaez were false.

“There is absolutely no link or other relation between the DAS and paramilitaries,” said Noguera. The deputy director’s accusations, he said, were merely designed “to smear my image,” he added.

The DAS has been hit by a string of other scandals recently, including alleged misappropriation of funds and accusations that a regional DAS chief in northwest Colombia had fabricated a plot to assassinate Uribe in order to take credit for foiling the attack.

Amid the allegations of misconduct, President Alvaro Uribe told El Pais newspaper over the weekend, “I feel like shutting down the DAS.” Uribe spokesman Ricardo Galan said Monday his boss was only expressing frustration over the scandal, but is not seriously considering such action.

Andres Penate, Colombia’s deputy minister of defense, has been named intern DAS director. He was not immediately available for comment.

Colombia is embroiled in a drug-fueled civil war that pits two leftist rebel armies against the paramilitary factions and government forces, killing more than 3,000 people every year.

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