Colombia This Week -- December 15, 2003

Fri 05 – Rebellion charges against bishop dropped; Army’s web page attacks J. Miguel Vivanco.

The Colombian Attorney General’s office drops charges of rebellion against José Luis Serna Alzate, a retired Roman Catholic bishop, for lack of evidence of ties to the National Liberation Army (ELN). The decision came after two former ELN members retracted statements accusing the bishop of managing local ELN finances. The bishop and 17 current and former municipal officials in the central province of Tolima were charged with rebellion in May. The ex-guerrillas told reporters they were pressured into making the accusations by members of the Unified Action Group (GAULA), a combined police and army anti-kidnapping force, El Colombiano reports.

In a poll taken from the web page of the Colombian Army, director of Human Rights Watch, (HRW) Jose Maria Vivanco is criticised for his public opinions on the demobilisation process of Colombian paramilitaries.


Sat 06-Uribe urges results from commanders; fumigations to affect National Parks and Reserves.

In a graduation ceremony in Bogota, President Uribe Velez urges the army commanders to fight and defeat terrorism. In the speech the President stressed that mistakes had been made in the past, and that the democratic security policy needs to be implemented with respect for the human rights of Colombians, El Tiempo reports.

US Congress approves for the first time aid to fumigate National Parks and nature reserves in Colombia. According to Anna Ceders, a scientist from Inter American Association for Environmental Defence (AIDA), "this policy creates no viable economic alternatives for farmers and simply perpetuates the cycle of farmers cutting forests to plant coca and the government spraying herbicides to destroy the fields”. In 2001, Colombia's environmental authorities specifically excluded national parks and natural reserves from the regions that are subject to aerial herbicide spraying. Instead, they ordered that manual or mechanical means be used to destroy coca and poppy crops in these areas. These special protections are in line with the Colombian Constitution and environmental laws that establish special protections for these environmentally sensitive areas.

The Colombian General Auditor, Jairo Alberto Cano reports that government expenditure has been reduced by 500,000 m pesos in last year and investment increased by 4,3 billion pesos (from 9 to 13,4b), CNE reports.


Sun 07 – Paramilitary faction hands over arms; five people kidnapped by armed group in Choco.

A group of 160 paramilitary fighters hand over their weapons in Eden (Cauca), becoming the second faction to do so in less than two weeks. Commander Becoche reports that his faction has not seen combat for three years and claims that they have not participated in illicit activities, Reuters reports.

Environment Minister Sandra Suarez reports that a Colombian government employee and four contractors working for the Environment Ministry have been kidnapped while supervising highway construction through north-western jungles in the Choco department, near the border with Panama. Guerrilla and paramilitary groups operate in the region. Minister Suarez refused to blame a specific group, El Colombiano reports.

According to Free Family Foundation, a Colombian NGO that helps hostages' families, 1,652 people were kidnapped in Colombia by Sept. 30 this year. Of those, 41 were public officials and another dozen were members of the military or police. This year's victims include 491 people who are still held, including three American defence contractors, 571 freed and 327 rescued. Fifty-five are dead, Associated Press reports.


Mon 08 - U.S. Congress approves Colombia aid for 2004; Attorney General grants first amnesties.

US Congress approves a $328 billion omnibus bill that provides over $700 million in aid to Colombia for 2004.The Senate has delayed taking action on the bill until late January, but if passed, it will then go to President Bush for final approval. Of the $731 million allotted for the Andean Counter Drug Initiative, $463 million is intended for Colombia, while an additional $110 million will be provided under Foreign Military Financing. As in years past, the aid is dependent upon Colombia’s compliance with human rights standards and places limits upon fumigation efforts, Reuters reports.

The Attorney General’s Office reports that they received orders to grant amnesties to three paramilitary commanders from the Nutibara block, Fabio Orlando Acevedo Monsalve, Giovanni de Jesús Zapata and Jaime Orlando Oviedo. They also dismiss earlier allegations that they provided safe-conducts to spokespersons from the Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC).

In question time in the House of Commons, the British Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Bill Rammell acknowledges that the Colombian Government did pledge to implement recommendations made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), but that such a pledge is not binding. He also expressed concerns about the proposal to grant judicial police powers to the army, urging the Colombian government to respect international obligations.

US Ambassador in Colombia, William B. Wood says that the US authorities will maintain the extradition warrants against commanders of the paramilitaries, Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso. An article in El Pais suggests that the Colombian government could formally ask the Bush administration to suspend these warrants. Washington is allready funding reinserction programmes through Plan Colombia.


Tues 09 – Relatives of the kidnapped protest in Bogota; US Embassy prepares NGO report.

Relatives of kidnapped victims stage a sit-in in the Bogota cathedral demanding a meeting with President Uribe Velez. Some 25 people, including the mother of the former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, barricaded themselves into the church. The families accused Uribe of failing to live up to an election pledge to seek a humanitarian accord with the guerrillas to secure the release of the hostages. The rebels want to exchange the hostages for guerrillas held in government jails, El Espectador reports.

Semana magazine reports that the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá has prepared a report examining the reasons for discrepancies between Colombian NGOs and government statistics about human rights violations. Although the report acknowledges that human rights continue to be regularly violated in Colombia, it asserts that NGOs have ignored the progress made by the government. According to the Embassy report, the government and NGOs arrive at different conclusions, because NGOs use different definitions and methodologies than the government in gathering statistics; the report also claims that NGO statistics exaggerate the violations.

The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado (Antioquia) reports that gunmen identifying themselves as paramilitaries stopped the car of the international NGO Peace Brigades International outside Apartado, threatening a leader of the community and robbing $22 m pesos generated by the community’s economic projects.

The National Liberation Army, (ELN) sends communiqués to the Israeli and British governments warning that the Colombian army is endangering the lives of their citizens in the Sierra Nevada region. They also say that they have suspended plans to free a Briton and four Israelis because of army operations in the area.

Colombian Senator and member of the Polo Democratico Antonio Navarro Wolff urges Vice-president Francisco Santos to appear before the Plenary of the Senate to explain to what extent the government is fulfilling the UN recommendations on human rights.


Weds 10 - Kofi Annan salutes human rights defenders; seven bodies found near El Dorado.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan pays tribute to human rights defenders across the world on Human Rights Day. In a statement made in New York he acknowledges that by standing in the front line of protection and by safeguarding the rule of law, reducing violence, poverty and discrimination, human rights defenders are providing an example to the rest of the world.

Commander of the Metropolitan police in Bogota, Jose Roberto Leon reports that they have found the bodies of seven people near Bogota’s airport El Dorado. He noted that the victims are seven men between 25 and 35 years old and they were tortured before they were shot dead, El Espectador reports.

Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo reports that the government is planning to introduce a legal framework for a possible humanitarian agreement under the Alternative Justice Law. He also rejects the possibility of naming a commission to negotiate the humanitarian exchange of prisoners, a petition made by the relatives of the kidnapped, El Colombiano reports.

Colombian prosecutors are investigating an allegation by a fired Colombian Army General that the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Colombian police agents were involved in the murders of two informants in the case involving two tons of cocaine. In a document dated Sept. 27, 2003, investigating prosecutors say that Gen. Gabriel Díaz alleged that a third informant “might have learned that members of the DEA and the police were probably involved in those murders,'' Miami Herald reports.


Thurs 11 – Senate passes 8thdebate in antiterrorist bill; Army: 22 paramilitaries killed in Meta

The Colombian Senate passes the law proposal for a constitutional reform that grants judicial police powers to the Colombian Army. This measure - which will not become law until enabling legislation is approved by Congress next year - will allow the armed forces to carry out raids, tap telephones, and make arrests without judicial authority on the basis of military accusations -- with no need to undertake proper and impartial judicial investigations.

Commander of the armed forces, Gen. Ospina reports that 22 paramilitaries were killed and 8 arrested in the municipality of Puerto Lopez (Meta). One soldier was killed and 7 more injured. He says that this faction does not belong to the Self-Defence Forces (AUC) and was not in negotiations with the government, El Pais reports.

Colombian lawmakers modify key tax legislation needed to meet IMF-agreed budget deficit targets, approving slimmer tariff hikes that would fall far short of government fund-raising projections. Thursday's vote by the congressional economic and budget committees was the first in a series of four votes, which Congress must hold before the end of the year. The committees rejected a government-sponsored measure that would have increased value-added tax to raise 513 billion pesos next year. They also rejected new taxes on pensions meant to raise another 88 billion pesos in 2004, Reuters reports.

Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights (CPDH) supports the vigil of the relatives of the kidnapped in the Cathedral of Bogota. In a statement, the Committee also demand the Colombian government shows an equal approach for negotiations with all the armed groups.

President Uribe Velez refuses to call off troops hunting for the five foreign tourists kidnapped by ELN in the Sierra de Santa Marta. “We won't leave the Sierra Nevada, day or night, until we root out the last of the terrorists," he said, El Tiempo reports.

Amnesty International reports that the Constitutional reform proposed by the Uribe government granting judicial police powers to the armed forces seriously undermines human rights. “There's a lack of political will to protect human rights in Colombia and this decision will have a disastrous impact on human rights by further contributing to the military's campaign to intimidate and discredit human rights defenders and social organizations, among others”, Amnesty International commented.



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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