Colombia this Week -- February 2, 2004

Fri 23 - Uribe faces EU questions on human rights; US certifies Colombia's human rights.

· EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten reports that Colombian President Uribe Velez will face a barrage of questions about his government's respect for the rule of law when he visits Europe next month to win backing for his tough, U.S-backed security policies. He made the comments at the end of a two-day visit during which he angered government leaders with thinly veiled criticism of Colombia's new anti-terrorism laws. The legislation, approved by Congress last month, gives the armed forces sweeping judicial powers to detain suspects without warrants, tap phones and search homes as part of Uribe's campaign to crush a four-decade leftist insurgency. Patten also called upon all Colombian armed groups for the unconditional release of kidnap victims. He called the FARC "inhumane" and "wicked", AP reports.

· U.S. State Department officials announced that on January 20, Secretary of State Colin Powell certified Colombia as meeting US congressional standards for protecting human rights. This certification allows for the release of $34 million in U.S. aid to the Colombian military, in addition to the $600 million in military and police assistance granted in 2003.

· Colombian Central Bank reports that the public sector foreign debt rose to $23,95 billion in October last year. They also report that the total foreign debt was $38,19 billion in October compared to $37.94 billion in September.


Sat 24 - US rights groups say certification "flawed"; Colombian kidnap victims' plea for freedom.

· Human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, objected to the US human rights certification as "flawed" and "deeply disappointing" in light of evidence that Colombia has not complied with U.S. conditions requiring the Colombian government to sever ties between the military and right-wing paramilitary groups. Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Americas Division, derided Secretary Powell's decision, because "the U.S. certification suggests that the Bush Administration sees the defence of human rights as a matter of paperwork, not concrete actions."

· Speaking from their prisons deep in the jungle, a group of Colombian lawmakers held by FARC rebels for nearly two years made a dramatic appeal for freedom in a videotape. The tape, recorded and edited by the FARC group, comes after UN special adviser on Colombia James Lemoyne urged President Uribe Velez and the rebels this week to take steps toward a prisoner exchange to revive stalled peace talks.

· Inspector General (Procurador) Edgardo Maya Villazon rejects the UN request to clear out the information on human rights defenders contained in military files. Michael Fruhling, director of the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, requested in March 2003 that the Colombian government verify on a quarterly basis the accuracy and objectivity of information contained in military intelligence files, in one of the 24 recommendations made to the Colombian State, El Espectador reports.


Sun 25- OAS to monitor paramilitary disarmament; Colombian army attacks FARC strongholds.

· After talks with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe on January 24, the Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary General Cesar Gaviria agrees that the OAS will monitor the disarmament of Colombian paramilitary groups, many of which are responsible for gross human rights violations. Gaviria pledged to lend the support of the OAS without consulting its 35 member states, a controversial decision because many diplomats and human rights groups worry that OAS involvement will "bestow international legitimacy on a process that remains a work in progress."

· The Colombian army has begun pushing into traditional FARC strongholds in Caqueta, in a military campaign expected to be more challenging and brutal than its previous battlefield victories. "This is about recovering the credibility of the state," said Sgt. Luis Fernando Cano, who helped lead an armoured unit into the village of La Union Peneya under heavy fire this month. "The state abandoned these people years ago", he said. These are the regions that the guerrillas count on for recruits, supplies and intelligence. But the army has already faced weeks of often intense fighting and an uneasy welcome from civilians, Washington Post reports.


Mon 26 - 30 UP survivors killed in 2003; Paramilitary commander detained for massacre.

· 30 members of the Patriotic Union, a political movement that resulted from peace negotiations in the 80's,were killed during 2003. Jahel Quiroga from the Colombian NGO Reiniciar reports that these killings are in breach of a resolution of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights that forced the Colombian State to protect the survivors of this movement after more than 3,000 people were killed.

· Commander of the paramilitaries Dariel Gomez Giraldo is detained in Medellin. He has been reportedly accused by the Attorney General's Office of involvement in the massacre carried out by paramilitaries in La Gabarra (Norte de Santander) in August 1999, in which 22 civilians were killed.

· Authorities report that an army soldier has been killed while trying to defuse a car bomb on the road between the municipalities of Tame and Fortul (Arauca), El Tiempo reports. This is the third soldier killed.


Tues 27 - UNHCR official visits Colombian displaced communities urging more international aid.

· U.N. Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane urges more international aid for refugees and people displaced in Colombia's war, saying that donors appeared to focus more on crises affecting other nations. "I believe that the international community has to look into this issue more seriously," he said, after visiting a shelter for Colombians in the Ecuadorian border city of Lago Agrio, "It should not be just looked at from the political point of view or from the drug-trafficking point of view." More than 20,000 Colombians have sought asylum in Ecuador since 2000, with about 6,600 receiving protection as refugees, Reuters reports.

· Colombian NGO Lawyers Collective Jose Alvear Restrepo reports the killing of Community Monitor (Veedor) Cesar Eduardo Toro and his assistant Carlos Arturo Rojas in the municipality of Puerto Boyaca. According to RCN radio they had received death threats by paramilitaries who are in control of the area.

· Chris Patten's visit to Colombia last week gave fresh impetus to the international search for a solution to the wars that have torn the country apart. Based on the reports made by the commissioner, the European Union will ask President Uribe during his next visit to Europe that Colombia publish a plan of action for human rights, with a timetable for implementation attached and that it reconsider the terms of the anti-terrorist legislation, The Irish Times reports.

· The Colombian army reports that FARC is forcing the displacement of 180 families from the village of La Union (Caqueta) , El Espectador reports.

· Colombia's government will receive bids to buy 55 percent of Bancafe, the country's largest state-owned bank. The government has twice failed to privatise it in 2000 and in 2001, due to a lack of interest from investors. Colombia's powerful Coffee Growers' Federation established the bank in 1954, but in 1999 the government took it over to save it from insolvency.


Weds 28 -Colombia soldier and police officer detained fighting with "paras"; 20 killed in combats.

· Authorities detain an army sergeant and a police officer found among paramilitary fighters in the aftermath of a battle with government troops, the Defence Ministry reports. Authorities are investigating the two men's collaboration with the right-wing militia. In the past, human rights groups have accused members of Colombia's security forces of links with the illegal paramilitary fighters. The men were detained after intense fighting Tuesday outside the town of Gigante in Huila state, in southwest Colombia. Seven paramilitary fighters were killed in the fight.

· The Colombian army reports it killed at least 20 paramilitary gunmen in Paz de Ariporo, (Cesar). Gen. Justo Eliseo Peña said it is the biggest offensive this year against the outlaws. No government troops were killed or injured. He added that the fallen paramilitary fighters were from the Casanare Peasants' Self-Defence Force, a group reportedly engaged in disarmament talks with the government.

· The Peasant Movement of Cajibio (Cauca) protests against the unjust detentions occurring in this municipality since the middle of December 2003. Peasants, truck drivers, youth, small business people, members of a medical mission, housewives, schoolteachers, councillors, civil servants, workers and popular leaders have been arrested without warrants and jailed. They also claim that these arrests result from the "democratic" security policies implemented under President Uribe Velez, US-based NGO Colombia Support Network reports.

· Camilo Gomez, Colombia's former chief peace negotiator confirms that Colombia twice asked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to meet with Colombian rebels. "I only remember two episodes, one with the FARC and the other with the ELN, he said to a local radio. Chavez reported on Tuesday he met with the rebels twice, but said it was at the request of former Colombian President Andres Pastrana, who championed failed peace talks -- fielded by Gomez -- during his 1998-2002 term.


Thurs 29 - Venezuela reports clash with Colombian armed group; WP: Gaviria's arrogant move.

· Venezuelan warplanes strafed a jungle zone near the Colombian border to drive back a column of Colombian armed fighters who had crossed over and clashed with a National Guard patrol, Gen. Castor Perez reports. The clash occurred when a 30-strong Venezuelan National Guard patrol hunting for kidnap victims confronted a large group of armed "irregulars" in the rugged Sierra de Perija border region of western Zulia state. "It was a large group of armed men who apparently ... were Colombians," Perez told local television.

· Marcela Sanchez from Washington Post reports that OAS President Gaviria has taken a disrespectful, arrogant and unilateral action to offer OAS' support to Colombia. She criticises Gaviria because he "did not bother to tell his bosses at the OAS that he planned to negotiate the deal". Instead, "he committed the member states and the organisation to virtually irrevocable support for a proposal that even the Colombian Congress has yet to approve and that many in the international community, including the United Nations, still question".

· A group of Irish MPs and rights activists blame pressure by Colombia's political and military establishment for the lack of a verdict in the trial of three IRA men. The Colombian government is becoming increasingly nervous about the focus on the upcoming verdict in the case of "the three" accused of training FARC members. "We are calling on the Colombian government to ensure that Judge Acosta is free from political and military pressure," Sean Crowe, a Sinn Fein MP in the Irish parliament said in Bogota, The Scotsman reports.

· In an interview in La Republica, economist Javier Fernandez Riva reports that the country should increase military spending as it seeks an end to its conflict, even if this means higher fiscal deficits. "Not enough is being spent (on the military), we should we willing to pay the cost to guarantee the recovery of tranquillity." Under President Uribe Velez, the government increased its military spending last year to 5% of gross domestic product (GDP) from 3.5% of GDP in 2002.

· UK-based Conciliation Resources publishes a new report on Colombia called: 'Alternatives to war: Colombia's peace processes', providing a summary of peace-making efforts of the last three decades.




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