Colombia This Week -- February 4, 2004

Fri 30 - OFP worker retained and tortured by paras in Barranca; Government closes Minercol.

· Amnesty International condemns the attack against Inés Peña, coordinator of the Documentation Centre at the NGO Popular Women's Organisation (OFP). She was forced into a van in Barrancabermeja by two armed men. As the two men, who are thought to be paramilitaries, drove her around the city her feet were reportedly scalded with boiling water and her head shaved. As she was being tortured, she was told "That's because we want you out of OFP". Amnesty calls on the Colombian government to protect the members of the OFP and all human rights defenders working in civil society groups.

· Minister for Mines and Energy, Luis Ernesto Mejía Castro reports that the Colombian government has decided to "liquidate" the main Colombian mining company, Minercol. Citing previous commitments made with the International Monetary Fund, he also said that this public company is subsidised by the national budget. He announced the creation of a new entity but sacked all current workers, AP reports.

· Police in Colombia, Italy and four other countries capture 120 suspected drug traffickers with alleged links to Colombia's paramilitary groups, El Tiempo reports. Police seized more than 5,500 kilogrammes of cocaine found hidden in five-ton blocks of marble and plastic pipes that arrived in southern Italy from Colombia. Italian authorities said that mafia groups from Calabria are working along with relatives of the paramilitary commander and peace negotiator, Salvatore Mancuso. The ring has been shipping drugs to southern Italy via Africa for the last three years hidden in tuna cans, leather, plastic and fruit shipments sent by front companies.


Sat 31 - OAS: Gaviria's move to support the demobilisation of paramilitaries seen as risky option

· The Colombian government's efforts to disarm paramilitary groups got a legitimacy boost last week, when the Organisation of American States (OAS) said it would monitor the process. The move by the OAS introduces a new dynamic and momentum to an initiative that has been criticised by both human-rights groups and right-wing Colombian legislators. OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria took a personal risk by agreeing to have the OAS monitor the process, since he agreed to do so without consulting the 35 OAS member states, Washington Times reports.

· Peace Brigades International (PBI) Colombia reports its concerns about the security situation involving humanitarian work in the Magdalena Medio region after a mission in which a PBI Spanish volunteer was accompanying two members of the Popular Women's Organisation (OFP) on a mission to San Pablo (Sur de Bolívar) with three delegates from the Norwegian Refugee Council and four from the Project Counselling Service, when shots were fired at their boat.

· Colombian NGOs release a public statement commemorating three years since the massacre in Purace (Cauca) in which nine people, (seven students and two peasants) were killed by the XIII front of the FARC group while visiting the area. Despite the fact that the FARC acknowledged the "mistake" at that time, no further investigation or reparation has been made by this group or the Colombian authorities.


Sun 01 - Government extraditing record numbers; army reports 7 killed and 49 captured.

· Colombia has extradited 90 people to the United Sates in the first 16 months of Uribe's term in office. "This is a commitment Colombia has made with itself", Defence Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe said, "We are simply putting the law into effect". US Embassy statistics show the increase, comparing the 64 people, including 54 Colombians, extradited under the Pastrana administration, KRT reports.

· The Colombian authorities report that 7 people were killed and 49 more captured in three different operations across the country. Two reported FARC members were killed in Bucarasica (Norte de Santander), and two were killed in the rural area of the municipality of Millan (Caqueta).

· In a letter sent to the governments of the European Union, the Colombian Communist Party, (PCC) reports on the previous commitments made by Uribe's government at the Donors Conference in July last year, adding that during his visit to Europe next week, the president wants to promote Plan Colombia.


Mon 02 -Government considers prisoner exchange; AUC's Mancuso denies narco allegations.

· In a brief statement the Colombian government acknowledges for the first time the possibility of an exchange of prisoners between the Colombian State and the FARC group. The statement warns that "the national government would not permit the liberation of any member of the guerrilla groups without guarantees that they will not return to crime", SNE reports.

· In a statement on their website paramilitary commander of the Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, Salvatore Mancuso responds to the allegations made by the Italian and Colombian Attorney General's Offices that neither he nor any close relative has any involvement in drug trafficking, claiming that "a spelling mistake" confused the authorities.

· According to the government Programme for Humanitarian Assistance to the Demobilised, 237 members of the Colombian armed groups demobilised in January. 115 were from the FARC group, 47 from the ELN and 70 from three different paramilitary groups. 3,505 people have been demobilised under Decree 128 passed by the government of Uribe Velez in 2001.

· The Foundation for the Freedom of the Press condemns the retention and torture of Ines Peña, Communicator and member of the Popular Women's Organisation (OFP) that occurred in the city of Barrancabermeja last week.


Tues 03 - HRW urges OAS states to reject Gaviria's agreement; US approves budget for 2005.

· Human Rights Watch (HRW) sends a public letter to the Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors representatives of the member states of the Organisation of American States, (OAS), urging a suspension of the agreement signed by Gaviria without previous consultation with member states. HRW adds that the Secretary General should not try to justify the agreement by reference to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which was established in order to strengthen, not weaken, democratic institutions and the rule of law. The letter urges the OAS to ensure that the agreement does not bestow international legitimacy on a process that grants impunity to the perpetrators of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

· President Bush calls for $463 million budget for the fiscal year 2005 to continue supporting the government of Colombia and $731 million for an on-going anti-drug programme in the entire Andean region. The president says in his budget that the money for Colombia will be used to support Colombian President Uribe's "unified campaign against drugs and terrorism," known as Plan Colombia. Bush praised the Colombian president's efforts to fight Colombia's armed opposition groups, designated by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organisations. In fiscal year 2004, the president asked for $744 million for the Andean Counter Drug Initiative.

· Members of the Teachers' Association of Arauca (ASEDAR) report new death threats against a number of teachers from this department. On 28 January 2004 a death threat letter was pushed under the door of ASEDAR teachers' union president Jaime Carrillo's house, in Arauca municipality. The letter also named the union's Secretary General, Celedonio Jaimes Peñaloza, and former president, Francisco Rojas. The text said: "Rats should be killed" Amnesty International reports.


Weds 04 - 4 GAULA officials detained for extortion; "drugs-for-weapons" paramilitary captured.

· The Attorney General's Office and the National Police report that four members of the Gaula,-an anti-kidnap elite group of the Colombian Army- have been arrested in Medellin, accused of the extortion of a teacher working in this city, El Colombiano reports.

· Colombian secret police (DAS) capture Fany Cecilia Barrera in Medellin. She is wanted in the US for involvement in a foiled drugs-for-weapons deal with Colombia's paramilitary forces and according to authorities will be extradited shortly. Barrera has been linked to a plot allegedly hatched in Houston to trade $25 million in cocaine and cash for a cache of weapons to be sent to the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, AUC, the group currently holding peace talks with Uribe's government. U.S. authorities say the suspect planned to trade the money and cocaine for arms, including 9,000 AK-47s, 300 pistols, nearly 300,000 grenades and about 53 million rounds of ammunition acquired on the global arms market, AP reports.

· A leading member of the FARC has been jailed for 40 years. Wilmer Antonio Marin, alias Hugo, was found guilty of last year's bombing of a nightclub in the capital Bogota which killed 36 people. He was also found to have been the FARC leader for the Bogota area. Marin was first arrested in 2000 but escaped from jail and was on the run for eight months until his recapture in December, BBC reports.

· The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado reports that community leaders have received new death threats. They also said that despite previous attacks reported to the authorities, there is currently no information about whether any measures have been taken to bring those responsible to justice, calling on the Colombian authorities to protect the civilians in the area.

· According to the government, Colombia's total foreign public debt will increase in 2004. A document released by the National Planning Department predicts that the current account gap will widen to $2.398 billion at the end of 2004 from a preliminary deficit of $1.677 billion in 2003 and $1.580 billion in 2002. In the document the government also forecast foreign public debt would rise to $25.104 billion by the end of 2004, against a preliminary $23.854 billion in 2003. Reuters reports.

· Millions of people are fleeing armed violence in Colombia in the world's worst-but largely ignored-humanitarian crisis outside Africa, UNHCR reports. Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane said the crisis was a regional and international problem, spilling across the borders of Colombia into neighbouring countries and boosting refugee flows to the US and Europe. "This is the worst humanitarian situation in the Western hemisphere, and the third worst in the world after Congo and Sudan".


Thurs 05 -Democratic security policy fails to improve protection of IDPs; TV journalist killed.

· The protection of IDPs has not improved since 2002 when President Uribe's government launched the "democratic security" policy to end the conflict by military means. The new strategy drew more civilians into the conflict, allowing armed groups to displace over 175,000 people in 2003 and leaving widespread human rights violations unpunished. Although Colombia has some of the most progressive IDP legislation, the government has undermined the existing legal framework through various amendments. The number of new displacements decreased in 2003, partly because many IDPs avoided officially registering for fear of reprisals by armed groups, Norwegian Refugee Council reports.

· Oscar Alberto Polanco, director of the CNC, a television station in Cartago (Cauca) is shot dead by unknown gunmen leaving his office. Police Colonel Jairo Salcedo reports they did not have information on the gunmen or the possible motives for the killing - the first of a Colombian reporter in 2004, Aljazeera news reports.

· Bishop of Barrancabermeja, Mon. Jaime Prieto reports that in the Magdalena Medio region the different paramilitary factions are not respecting the cease-fire agreement with the government. He also said during the meeting of the Episcopal Assembly in Bogota that journalists, community leaders and human rights defenders are under constant threat from these groups, calling on the authorities to re-take control of the region.


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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