Colombia This Week -- December 6, 2004

Fri 26 - FARC displace 3,000 people in Antioquia; fighting kills 14 people in Choco region.

· The inhabitants of eight settlements from the municipality of Ituango have been forcibly displaced from their homes by the FARC. The Colombian army is currently undergoing a military operation in the area and it is trying to convince the people to stay in their villages. Mayor of Ituango Jaime Montoya said that these 80 families represent more than 3,000 people, El Colombiano reports.

· Fighting between the FARC and paramilitary groups in the San Juan river basin (Choco) have killed 14 people and injured "at least 15". Combat has been taking place there for the last three weeks and humanitarian agencies are having difficulties entering the area to assist the affected population, El Espectador reports.

· An article in El Tiempo reports how, demobilization or not, at least two other paramilitary groups will remain active in Uraba, (Antioquia), reviving fears that fighters will be recruited sooner or later by other paramilitary factions. The "Heroes de Tolova and the Elmer Cardenas Bloc" continues its armed control in the area and locals suspect that they will be reincorporated after receiving the benefits from the government.

· Regional Lawmakers in Antioquia have approved an "administrative restructuring" plan that would wipe out the Antioquian Department Workers Union (Sintradepartamento). The plan would reorganize the province's Physical Infrastructure Department and lay off the union's 417 members, mostly in sanitation, forestry and road-maintenance workers, Colombia Week reports.


Sat 27 - UNHCR reports on abuse of women in conflict; blockade continues in Catatumbo region.

· On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, UNHCR is launching a campaign to prevent violence against women in Colombia. According to government figures, half of the 1.5 million people registered as internally displaced persons (IDPs) are adult women. According to Colombian non-governmental organisations, the real figure could be twice as high, as many IDPs do not register with the authorities. Internally displaced women in Colombia are particularly vulnerable to further violence, as evidenced by a recent study which shows that 52.3 percent of IDP women have been victims of domestic violence, compared to 41.1 percent of non-displaced women. Moreover, one out of every three IDP women has been forced to have sex with strangers, according to official government statistics quoted in the report, UNHCR reports.

· El Colombiano reports how despite the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) ceasefire, a paramilitary economic blockade continues in the northern region of Catatumbo, provoking the forced displacement of the most affected communities.

· The indigenous U'wa community in Norte de Santander demands that the government scrap plans to drill for oil on its land. Ecopetrol has announced they will start drilling in February next year, El Tiempo reports.


Sun 28 - Two people killed in explosion in Quibdo; NGO denounces tactics of paramilitaries.

· Two people died and six more were injured as the result of an explosion in the city of Quibdo. According to the authorities this explosion was notaccidental but was made by an ELN militia group acting in the city, El Tiempo reports.

· US-based Colombia Support Network reports that while the Colombian government is negotiating with the leaders of the paramilitary group BCB (Bloque Central Bolivar), members of this group commanded by Ernesto Baez, Julian Bolivar, and Javier Montañez have compiled a list of community leaders and a priest from the southern Bolivar region threatening their lives. The Network also denounces the food blockade, the prohibition of the use of mobile phones and a forced census of the population, calling the US Congress to react and take action against the abuses made by this illegal armed group, CSN reports.

· Medellin-based NGO platform Codhesel alerts to the Colombian Control organisations, the UN offices in Colombia and the international community that they have evidence that the Colombian armed forces are pursuing testimonies from people reinserted from armed groups and informants to provide false testimonies against the work of the human rights NGOs in the city. They also fear that detentions and raids into their offices will force them to stop their work.

· In an interview in Cambio magazine, Mayor of Bogota and leader of the Democratic Independent pole (PDI) Lucho Garzon reports that he won't run for president in 2006.


Mon 29 - Uribe denies knowledge of paramilitary bribes; US concern on violence against women.

· In a brief statement, the Colombian President reports that he was not informed by the Governor of Casanare Miguel Angel Perez about any money coming from the paramilitaries. Perez has admitted taking the money (US $20,000), which he said was a donation for the election campaign, but claimed he returned it when he realised it was from a paramilitary group. Members of the ACC told Reuters they paid the money as a bribe in return for promises of provincial contracts and that they leaked a secretly made video after he failed to keep his side of the bargain, Reuters reports.

· A bi-partisan group of 53 US Congressmen sent a letter to President Uribe expressing "deep concern" about recent reports indicating widespread violence against women in Colombia's conflict. The letter indicates that the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Amnesty International concluded that gender-based violence against women has become "widespread and systematic, resulting from the internal armed conflict in Colombia" including testimonies of sexual slavery, sexual mutilation, forced nudity, forced abortions and forced contraception, Info brief reports.

· A bomb explodes in a municipal building office in southern Bogota, killing one person and injuring six others. The Police blame the FARC militias for the attack, El Espectador reports.

· Colombian Inspector General's office (Procuraduria) confirms the suspension for 90 days a group of five soldiers for the killing of a 12 year-old girl in Caño Limon (Arauca) in 2001. According to the investigation, the soldiers shot indiscriminately at the houses of the inhabitants in this settlement knowing that civilians were there, El Espectador reports.


Tues 30- Alarm about increased violence in Buenaventura;US: Bush faced no danger during visit.

· According to the local health authorities in Buenaventura (Pacific coast), 397 people have been killed this year in the city. The Police authorities reports that this is the result of the fighting between mafia groups related to narcotraffiking and from combat between guerrilla and paramilitary militias disputing this urban territory. According to the local Ombudsman officer (Personero) Flavio Hurtado the situation is critical because the conflict has heightened and the government forgot this city, El Tiempo reports.

· Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon reports in a meeting with the Foundation of Artists and Intellectuals in support of the Indigenous people that the situation faced by Colombian Indigenous communities is a result of lack of will to implement the law by the Colombian state, He accuses all armed groups of killing the leaders of some of the most vulnerable communities, AFP reports.

· Two ELN fighters were killed in combat with the army in Santa Rosa, (Sur de Bolivar), authorities' reports.

· Colombia's government back-pedalled on a sensational claim made by the defence minister that FARC rebels wanted to assassinate President Bush during a recent state visit. Defence Minister Jorge Uribe told reporters Friday that informants said the FARC instructed followers to ''assassinate President Bush'' during his visit in the city of Cartagena, AP reports.


Weds 01-Uribe's re-election bill approved; Congresswoman's bodyguard is paramilitary gunman.

· The Colombian Congress has passed a controversial bill paving the way for President Uribe to stand for a second term in office. The bill was approved by 113 to 16 in the House of Representatives after it was earlier passed by the Senate. Until now, heads of state have been restricted to a single four-year term. Mr Uribe, whose current term expires in 2006, says he needs more time to implement his US-backed policies against Colombian guerrillas. Some lawmakers say it will give presidents too much power. The Constitutional Court still needs to approve the proposal before it can come into effect and there could be a legal battle over details of the change. BBC reports.

· Óscar Hernando Vargas, a detained gunmen accused of being part of a paramilitary group acting in Bogota has reportedly being the personal bodyguard of a Congresswoman from Monteria, Rocio Arias. He was captured in Cali with another four paramilitary fighters. According to the reports this group is responsible for the killing of three politicians from the southern department of Meta assassinated three months ago in a road in Cundinamarca, El Tiempo reports.

· The two main Colombian leftwing parties, Independent Democratic Pole (PDI) and the Democratic Alternative (AD), announce they will have a unique candidate to run for the Presidency in the next elections. The accord between both groups include the process by which the candidates would be selected and the same electoral agenda, Colprensa reports.

· US-based NGO Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) reports that a study on the latest data on illicit drug prices in the US show that the war on drugs is failing. The report demonstrates how US anti-drug policies have caused widespread, often profoundly damaging, harm to citizens' lives and their nations' democracies. "After 25 years and 25 billion dollars fighting drugs in Latin America, we are no closer to winning the drug war, which is ultimately about reducing drug abuse," said Joy Olson, WOLA Executive Director.


Thurs 02 - EU Parliament criticises Uribe's tactics; Uribe's security chief sacked for corruption.

· A group of human rights NGOs reported to the EU Parliament in Luxemburg on the situation faced by Colombian civil society groups. A testimony was made by Jesuit and founder of the Colombian Commission for Justice and Peace, father Javier Giraldo, who reported that the Uribe government wants to consolidate control by paramilitary groups across Colombia, creating an anti-democratic and violent state. The president of the European Parliament, Luisa Morgantini reports that she was shocked by the testimonies, adding that she's in favour of peace but not "an oppressed peace", El Colombiano reports.

· The inspector general's office sacks Police officer Mauricio Santoyo, President Uribe Velez's security chief and nine other officers for tapping 1,808 telephone lines from NGOs and civil society groups illegally when he was head of an antikidnapping unit (Gaula) in Medellin.

· President Uribe Velez pardons 23 jailed FARC members as a good will gesture and said he hoped guerrilla leaders will respond by freeing hostages, though the leaders previously have said they would not reciprocate. Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo said the 23 rebels would be freed and placed in a government-run programme to reinsert former guerrillas into society. He told reporters that he hoped "this act of peace" would help to obtain the early release of those "who are unfairly suffering from kidnapping." The FARC has expressed interest in a prisoner exchange, but says the government must establish two demilitarized zones where the two sides could talk. The government refuses. The FARC also wants its jailed leaders to be freed, not just its foot soldiers accused of minor crimes, AP reports.


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