Colombia This Week -- April 19, 2004

Fri 09 – Europe to grant aid for victims of violence; UN condemns killing of UP leader in Cucuta.

The European Union is expected to grant 8 million euros (9.6 million US dollars) to support the victims of Colombia's internal armed conflict. The donation will be sent "through humanitarian aid" will be directed towards the displaced population. The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Development and Aid, Paul Nielson, voiced to Vice President Santos his "deep concern" over the situation of the internally displaced people (IDPs) and reiterated his will to continue assisting these people. The donation is to benefit 120,000 IDPs with basic food medical assistance and emergency care during the first 3 months of their forced displacement.

The United Nations condemns the murder of Colombian human rights activist Carlos Bernal in a statement issued on 3rd April. Despite the fact that Bernal, the head of the opposition Independent Democratic Pole Party for the Norte de Santander region and a member of the country’s Permanent Committee for Human Rights, was part of a Colombian state-run programme that protects threatened political leaders, he was shot on 1st April in the city of Cucuta.

Colombia's government rejects a British newspaper report claiming the country was planning to send troops to Iraq. In a written statement, Uribe said the government has "never considered the possibility" of sending troops to assist coalition forces in Iraq. The president's spokesman, Ricardo Galan, also said Mr. Uribe did not discuss the matter with President Bush during a meeting at the White House last week. The Financial Times newspaper last week had quoted a U.S. State Department official saying Colombia was considering the move to ensure U.S. support in the fight against drug trafficking.

The European Union (EU) added Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) to its blacklist of terrorist organisations. The group was added after heavy lobbying by President Uribe, who appealed to EU leaders on a recent European visit to add the rebel group to the list and crack down on European groups channelling funds to it. EU member states are obliged to freeze funds and ensure that all financial assets "are not made available, directly or indirectly, for the benefit of specified persons or groups " on the list.


Sat 10 – Colombian troops kill five members of the same family in a new accident.

Colombian soldiers have accidentally killed five civilians, including two children, admitting another mistaken killing just three weeks after troops killed 11 policemen and civilians in an incident still under investigation. A patrol killed five peasants after confusing them with Marxist rebels in mountains near the town of Cajamarca in Tolima. Among those killed were boys aged two and 10. A woman was also killed and two men, the army said. Army commander Gen. Martin Orlando Carreño has ordered an investigation into the incident.


Sun 11 – Government scraps amnesty proposal; Catholic Church calls for exchange of prisoners.

The Colombian government discards legislation that would rule out prison time for demobilised illegal combatants, even those found guilty of crimes against humanity. Instead, the administration announces a plan to introduce a bill that grants the offenders reduced jail terms of 5-10 years. Under the new bill, a “truth commission” would investigate alleged crimes against humanity and recommend punishment to the president, who would decide whether the defendant received the 5-10 year sentence or a civilian trial that could result in a longer term. “Lightened sentences are necessary to lure combatants to the negotiating table”, said President Uribe.

An Easter message from Colombia’s Roman Catholic bishops calls for a prisoner exchange between the government and guerrillas and for an end to social inequality in Colombia, calling on the government to increase investment in education and social spending, El Espectador reports.

Japan announces that it will give more than US$ 1 m in aid for people displaced by Colombia’s civil war. The aid to the refugees will include food, cooking sets, hygiene products and funds, Reuters reports.

The US State Department launches a new push to use agent green to spray coca crops in Colombia. Original plans were defeated by NGOs and indigenous people in 2001, but US diplomats renewed pressure on Colombia while President Uribe was visiting the US two weeks ago, El Espectador reports.


Mon 12 – Three soldiers killed in “friendly fire”; President apologises for military's killings.

Government soldiers accidentally killed three fellow troops after mistaking them for outlawed paramilitary gunmen. The deaths followed a series of mistaken shootings by government forces that have left five soldiers, seven police and nine civilians dead since early February. In the latest case, an army patrol was searching for paramilitary fighters in a rural area near Puerto Gaitan when it mistook another army unit for paramilitary fighters, the army said.

President Uribe Velez publicly apologised for the military's killing of five civilians on 10th April, including three teenagers and a baby, but rejected opposition calls to moderate his aggressive campaign to crush guerrilla groups. In a nationally televised address Uribe said: "This tragic episode fills us with grief, but it cannot slow our drive to bring security back to Colombia." His remarks came as opposition politicians and victims' relatives warned that Uribe's anti-rebel campaign was leading to army excesses and erroneous killings, AP reports.

Dismissed attorney and well known organised-crime fighter Alvaro Bayona reports that drug traffickers have infiltrated the Colombian Attorney General’s office, criticising the way the Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio is handling the numerous scandals affecting this institution, El Tiempo reports.

An investigation from the National Police reports that narcotraffickers and paramilitaries have infiltrated this institution in at least four different regions, El Espectador reports.

In an unprecedented movement, 38 Colombian Congressmen and women propose new legislation, including a constitutional amendment barring extradition of illegal combatants who disarm, El Tiempo reports.

Colombian banking profits set records in January and February this year, according to the Colombian government, Portafolio reports.


Tues 13 – UN acting Commissioner condemns Colombian government; police investigation fails.

The U.N.'s Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, criticised the Colombian government for undermining the rule of law, and condemned the on-going violence and killings by Colombia's rebel and paramilitary groups. In his report to the Human Rights Commission, the U.N.'s top human rights official presented a grim assessment of the internal armed conflict. He said that both guerrilla groups, the FARC-EP and ELN, and the paramilitary groups, continue to kill civilians, take hostages, force people out of their homes, recruit child soldiers and use anti-personnel mines, AP reports.

The Ministry of Defence presents the results of an investigation into an army platoon’s massacre of seven police agents and four informants in Guatarilla (Nariño). The two officials leading the operation have been dismissed yielding conflicting stories and putting the Defence Minister’s job in jeopardy. Two days ago an army major said that before the ‘friendly fire’ incident that killed seven National Police officers, their cars were carrying cocaine, El Tiempo reports.

A lie detector test carried out on employees at Colombia's Attorney General’s office has produced an embarrassing 20% failure rate. The FBI-administered test is designed to root out corruption, including involvement in drug trafficking or guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Mr Osorio has admitted that the institution is going through a "bad moment", but he denied that the results were a disaster and said those that failed would not automatically lose their jobs, El Tiempo reports.

The British Embassy in Colombia reports they will support the Colombian displaced population with a programme worth 225 m pesos (£49,000). British Ambassador Tom Duggin reports that the programme will be implemented by the local NGO Cedavida, El Espectador reports.

Private oil investors and companies working in new exploitations will get to keep 100 percent of the production of oil, Colombian officials announce in Dallas in a new move by the Colombian president to attract new investments, El Tiempo reports.

Almost 200 British members of parliament call for a suspension of military aid to Colombia, the Guardian reports.


Weds 14 – Uribe seeks permission to run second term; 25 travellers kidnapped near Cali.

President Uribe launches a campaign to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a second term in 2006. The proposed amendment would allow the president to serve a maximum of two consecutive four-year terms. "The re-election of a president would be a valuable instrument to consolidate democracy, because a perfect democracy offers the people all possible options, including choosing between continuity and change", Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt said in statement delivered to Congress, El Tiempo reports.

At least 25 travellers were reportedly kidnapped by the FARC group, after guerrillas killed a soldier near the city of Cali, the military authorities report. In other developments, the Colombian army also reports they have rescued 28 people kidnapped by FARC in Valle del Cauca. The rebels abducted the 28 people in Florida while they were travelling by bus and in private vehicles El Espectador reports.

According to El Tiempo, members of the supposedly demobilised paramilitary group Nutibara Bloc in Medellin are threatening and putting pressure on the organisations and leaders in parts of the city before the local elections of the neighbourhood committees (Juntas de Accion Comunal). Secretary of the local government of Antioquia, Alonso Salazar confirms that there are a “worrying” number of denunciations, calling on the delegates of the Organisation for American States (OAS) to investigate and clarify the claims.


Thurs 15 – Priests to promote peace in Colombia; police raid properties of biggest drug lord.

About 100 Roman Catholic priests are planning a pilgrimage through some of Colombia's most dangerous regions to try to heal the scars of the on-going civil war. During their 2,200-mile journey by vehicle convoy that begins on Saturday, the clerics will be travelling without army protection, fearing it could turn them into a target or deter rebels or paramilitary fighters from attending sermons along the route. "We need to move forward in the process of reconciliation," said Monseñor Hector Fabio Henao, a Catholic Church leader and official peace mediator. "We want to build a momentum toward peace among every social class", Reuters reports.

Two thousand Colombian police officers raid the properties belonging to Diego Montoya, alleged head of the Norte del Valle drugs cartel. Over 100 properties, including luxury villas, have been seized. The estimated value of the assets is $150m and income from their sale would help fund the war on drugs, BBC reports.

Colombian NGO Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS) urges the FARC group to unconditionally release trade unionist Carlos Herrera Monsalve, kidnapped in a roadblock in the municipality of Caicedo, Antioquia.

In an article in the Guardian, Ana Carrigan reports that despite the warm welcome President Uribe received from the US authorities as Washington's leading hemispheric ally in the war on terror, this may not be the best moment for the US Congress to agree more aid for the Colombian armed forces, after a media story has just broken in Bogotá with allegations made by (r) Army Gen. Uscategui of institutional collusion between high ranking officials of the Colombian army and commanders of the paramilitaries.


Colombia This Week is a news summary produced and distributed by ABColombia Group. Sources include daily Colombian, US, European and Latin American newspapers, and reports from non-governmental organisations and the UN System. The content does not necessarily reflect the views of the ABColombia Group.

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