Colombia This Week -- August 31, 2004
Fri 20 Paramilitary commanders to visit Europe; Colombian oil pipeline paid with blood.
According to the Colombian Congresswoman Rocio Arias, some paramilitary commanders could travel to France and Spain in a delegation to raise awareness for the peace process that the government and most factions of the Colombian paramilitaries are involved in since last year. According to reports, they would meet with government and NGOs, looking for support for this process, El Espectador reports.
In an article in the Guardian, Isabel Hilton reports that behind the killing of three important trade unionists in Arauca by the Colombian 18th Brigade on 4 August, there is a big security problem affecting the civilian population in Arauca since the Colombian government declared the province a special security zone in 2002. The strategy, -she reports- is funded by the US government and aims to protect a strategic pipeline owned by US-based Occidental Petroleum.
40 Congressmen supporters of the government threaten to pull out of next years Liberal Party convention if the party fails to support the re-election bill, broadening the crisis within the party, Colprensa reports.
In an interview in El Espectador, Colombian senator and supporter of the government German Vargas Lleras reports he has been appalled at the proposed exchange of prisoners between the government and the FARC because it leads to nothing except to encourage more kidnappings of leaders and members of the security forces&ldots;Quite frankly, I think it's horrifying.
Sat 21 Paramilitaries kill six peasants in Caqueta; ELN say they want to reduce suffering.
The Colombian army reports that a group of paramilitaries raided the settlement of La Esperanza (Caqueta), killing six peasants including two indigenous. Members of the Attorney Generals office are investigating the identity of the killers, the Colombian Army news agency ANE reports.
In a public statement the ELN group shows signs of war weariness with a declaration that they want to find ways to reduce the suffering caused by their 40-year-old struggle while they seek a political exit to the fighting. The ELN, which the military says has suffered heavy losses in combat, said in a communique distributed to a forum on land mines in Cartagena, "Every day more Colombians want a political end to the conflict&ldots; We are examining all the arguments of international and national law, insurgent statutes and the rules of local communities to establish a humanitarian statute to regulate the war while we seek a definitive end to the Colombian conflict." The government has offered to start peace negotiations and halt military offensives against the ELN if it declares a cease-fire.
According to the Colombian government, voluntarily and individually, 116 members of the illegal armed groups have demobilized, giving a total of 1.760 deserters in 2004. In August, 68 members of the FARC group joined the National Government Reincorporation to Civil Life Programme. Forty AUC members have joined the programme, as well as 8 members of the ELN.
Sun 22 Colombian Congress calls attention to human rights situation of Bogotas IDPs.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) meets with the Colombian Senate and House of Representatives Human Rights Commissions to discuss ways to alleviate "the grave human rights situation" of the population in Altos de Cazuca, an area in southern Bogota, which is home to tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict. Many of them cannot return to the homes they were forced to flee, but at the same time, face difficulties integrating into some of the city's poorest and most deprived areas. According to official figures, the number of violent deaths in the area, already one of the highest in the country, is on the increase as a result of the activities of irregular armed groups. Violence and intimidation by these groups are a fact of life. In the words of the UNHCR Representative in Colombia, Roberto Meier, "it would appear that the conflict is following its victims".
Governor from Valle, Angelino Garzon urges the paramilitary groups to fulfil their promises and respect the cease fire they have agreed to, after paramilitaries reportedly killed two more social leaders. Teacher and vicepresident of the Teachers Union (Sutev) Eliecer Valencia Oviedo was recently murdered in Tulua, and peasant and community leader Carlos Ovidio Agudelo was killed in the same municipality. As a result of these murders 180 people have been displaced to the city of Cali, El Pais reports.
The Colombian Association of Indigenous People (AICO) denounces irregularities concerning the Wayuu return to Bahia Portete in La Guajira, accusing the Vicepresidency of the republic of misleading the general public. Despite the reports made by Vicepresident Francisco Santos on the protection offered to the displaced communities, only 10% of those originally displaced have returned to their villages, denouncing that 320 Wayuu families are displaced in Maracaibo (Venezuela) without food and shelter.
The UN Office for Human Rights in Colombia and the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF) sign an agreement to capacitate 35 members of the ICBF on human rights as part of the general agreement between the Colombian government and the UN system to support public policies on human rights.
Mon 23 FARC slam government prisoner swap plan; 6 police arrested for 1990 murders.
The FARC group criticises the government proposal to swap jailed guerrillas for kidnapped politicians, soldiers and three American contractors, saying that any deal should allow its freed comrades to return to the rebel ranks. Nevertheless, they said that they hoped the two sides eventually could find common ground for some type of swap. Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos said he was disappointed by the FARC's dismissal of the proposal: "It would have been very easy for them to just say yes," Santos said. Interior and Justice Minister Sabas Pretelt, sounding more optimistic, told a radio station the response "says no, but also yes," pointing out that it leaves the door open for a future agreement. The government's proposal called for 50 jailed rebels accused of minor crimes to be freed in exchange for an equal amount of the so-called political hostages.
The Attorney Generals office arrests six police officers in connection with a 1990 murder of three youths in the city of Medellin. According to reports, the youths were detained-disappeared by the police and their bodies appeared in the outskirts of the city days later, El Colombiano reports.
The Swedish Embassy in Colombia and the Swedish International Cooperation Agency for Development (SIDA) announce that 23 Colombian officials, including officers from the Military Criminal Justice system, are travelling to Sweden to participate in a seminar on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution.
Colombian academic and Director of the Justice and Life Project Lilia Solano reports she is the victim of increasing harassment and threats. During the visit of the 3 paramilitary leaders to Congress on 28 July, Lilia Solano and Ivan Cepeda entered the Congress and demonstrated against the impunity being given to the paramilitaries for their crimes against humanity. Lilia was dragged out of the Congress and assaulted by police. Following this incident, threatening phone calls to her home and on her mobile phone have increased, UK-based Colombia Solidarity Campaign reports.
Tues 24 - Press cynical over Colombia prisoner swap; government laments FARC response.
The decision by Colombia's largest rebel movement to reject a government plan to exchange prisoners has come as no surprise to two of the country's leading daily newspapers. Commentators in both believe the so-called "humanitarian exchange", in which jailed rebels would have been swapped for hostages, can be viewed as a political ploy rather than a sincere gesture. The El Espectador editorial argues that the proposal was designed to kill several birds with one stone, assuaging international critics complaining about the right-wing paramilitaries, easing pressure from hostages' families, and reducing the hostility of the group of former presidents concerned about the hostages' fate. The daily believes that the only glimmer of hope lies in the fact that "the government has acknowledged the message from a significant sector of opinion which rejects the idea that war is the only form of dialogue between the FARC and the government".
Hitmen have killed 75 people this year in Villavicencio, (Meta), but authorities seem to have done little in response, El Tiempo reports. Investigators of the killings criticise police procedures that lead impunity for those responsible.
According to Robert Rennhack, coordinator of the mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Colombia, the tax reform proposal presented by the National Government to Congress is going in the right direction, La Republica reports.
Senator Carlos Moreno reports that the government has promised 149,000 million pesos (approx US $57 million) from the ministries of Interior and Defence for the demobilisation programme of the paramilitaries for this year and a similar figure for 2005. According to reports, the Colombian government hopes to demobilise up to 10,000 fighters from irregular armed groups by the end of the year, the Meridiano from Cordoba reports.
Weds 25- Santos confronted in Arauca; Tribunal orders State to pay for paramilitary massacre.
Trade unionists and social leaders confront Vice President Francisco Santos during a human rights forum in Arauca. Tensions were high over the recent assassination of three trade unionists by the Colombian Army in this department. Despite accusations regarding the presence of informers in the meeting, the Vice-President promised an impartial investigation by the Attorney Generals office over the killings, El Colombiano reports.
A Colombian Court orders the government to compensate 120 families for a 1999 massacre committed by paramilitaries in Norte de Santander. The ruling blames the military authorities in the region for knowledge regarding paramilitary movements, and thus holds them responsible for omission in failing to prevent the attack, El Pais reports.
Thurs 26- Three climbers killed by the army in Tolima; Two policemen killed in explosion Bogota.
In a new incident involving civilian casualties during an army operation, AFP reports that three Colombian climbers have been reportedly killed during an army operation. Their bodies were presented as guerrilla members killed in combat but later relatives claimed they were a group of students in a climbing expedition to the Nevado Peak in Tolima.
A bomb explodes in front of a beauty salon in Bogota as a police car drives by, killing two officers and wounding two other people, authorities say. National Police chief Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro said they had no suspects for the blast, which blew out windows and caused panic in the residential neighbourhood in northwest Bogota. Another police officer in the patrol car was injured in the blast, as was a woman walking nearby. Residents in the area said they heard another explosion a few minutes after the first bomb, but no further details were available, AP reports.
E-mail may be the fastest way to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the FARC group holding 72 hostages, the Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo announces, declining to explain why he wanted to avoid face-to-face talks. "We are in the 21st Century. We must use modern technology," he told reporters. Earlier this week, Colombia's FARC rejected a government proposal to free jailed comrades in return for 72 hostages, including three Americans. "The FARC is going to want to talk, not send a letter," Rafael Pardo, a senator and former defence minister, told Reuters. "After two years without talking with the FARC the government is now suggesting e-mail? This does not seem to be a serious proposal."
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.
If you would like to be put on the mailing list, please send an email message to the address below, indicating why you would be interested in receiving this summary.
PO Box 100
London SE1 7RT
ABColombia Members: CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam GB, Save the Children UK, SCIAF, Trocaire.
ABColombia Observers: Amnesty International and Peace Brigades International.