Colombia This Week -- February 16, 2004

Fri 06 - Constitutional Court urges action on IDPs; explosives placed in SINTRAEMCALI building.

· The Colombian Constitutional Court holds the Colombian government to their commitments regarding internally displaced people. Ruling on an important case against the state, after an appeal was made by thousands of IDPs, the Court obliges the government to respond by March, or to present a new strategy in which the government can guarantee that the needs of the displaced are fully met.

· The Cali Municipal Corporation Workers Union SINTRAEMCALI, the Association for Research and Social Action NOMADESC and the other members of the Campaign PROHIBIDO OLVIDAR (Forbidden to Forget) denounce the new threat against SINTRAEMCALI members and the union's executive and advisers, after an explosive was placed at the entrance door of the union headquarters in Cali.


Sat 07- Human rights defender killed in Barranquilla; US Embassy supports Uribe's second term.

· Colombian NGO Lawyers Collective Jose Alvear Restrepo denounces the killing of human rights defender Jose Mendivil Cardenas in Barranquilla (Atlantico) by unidentified gunmen. The report also says that two more civilians were reportedly killed by paramilitaries in the rural area of Sabana Larga, denouncing to the authorities the presence of these illegal armed groups in the area.

· In a business meeting in Cali, U.S. Ambassador for Colombia William Wood reports that Washington approves the initiative to amend Colombia's constitution so the country's president can run for a second term. Last October, Colombia's Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed Uribe to run for a second, four-year consecutive term in 2006, criticising it as tailor-made for Uribe. Now, Uribe loyalists are launching a bid to collect the 1.2 million signatures, or 5 percent of the electorate, needed to force another bill through Congress.

· Colombian authorities extradite four people to the United States for alleged drug trafficking and money laundering. Three men and a woman were handed over at the Eldorado international airport to the US staff appointed by the US Embassy for their transfer, El Espectador reports.

· Director of the Tayrona National Park, Marta Lucia Hernandez is killed after two gunmen burst into her place in Santa Marta and opened fire. According to the park workers, civilians allied with paramilitaries collect fees from tourists at one of the entrances to Tayrona. Authorities say paramilitaries and other traffickers smuggle tons of cocaine out of the country from the Caribbean coast in and around Tayrona, and, instead of turning a blind eye to the paramilitaries, Hernandez pushed for the addition of horse-mounted police patrols.


Sun 08 – Two displaced leaders killed in Apartado; FARC commander may face US extradition.

· Simon Trinidad, senior FARC commander and negotiator of this group could face extradition to the US for the 1997 killing of an American geologist working in Colombia as a mining consultant. According to El Espectador, the FARC group took Frank Pescatore hostage in December 1996, while he was working in La Guajira province for a coal company. He was killed in February 1997, while Simon Trinidad was leader of the Caribbean bloc. "He gave the orders for these types of kidnappings and killings", said the director of DAS force.

· Colombian Senator and former magistrate of the Constitutional Court Carlos Gaviria reports that the comments made by the US Ambassador in Colombia, William Wood were "absolutely inappropriate", saying he was encroaching on domestic affairs, El Colombiano reports.

· As EU leaders and members of the European Parliament prepare to welcome the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to Brussels and Strasbourg this week, Amnesty International urges the European countries to refrain from supporting policies that risk exacerbating the human rights crisis happening in Colombia. Despite the Colombian government's claim that its "democratic security policy" is working and that killings and kidnappings have decreased, Amnesty International has received information that in several conflict zones killings and "disappearances" are on the increase, Dick Oosting, Director of Amnesty International's EU Office said.


Mon 09-Uribe rejects "exchange of prisoners" with FARC; Defence Ministry: 3000 paras captured.

· President Uribe Velez rules out exchanging prisoners with the FARC group, which holds dozens of hostages. On a visit to the European Union parliament, Uribe said the hostages held by the FARC were "good citizens" who cannot be exchanged for guerrillas in jail whom he termed "terrorists." "The Colombian government cannot enter into negotiations that strengthen terrorism," Uribe said at a brief news conference with Javier Solana, Europe's foreign policy chief at the EU head office. His comments are his clearest rejection to date of a prisoner exchange, demanded by the FARC and generally supported by European officials. On a recent visit to Colombia, EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten had urged Uribe to discuss a prisoner exchange with FARC leaders.

· According to the Defence Ministry, more than 3,000 paramilitary fighters were captured last year, even though their leaders had declared a cease-fire and were talking peace with the government. Many experts say the armed forces attack only certain factions of the AUC, while others are effectively given a free rein. The paramilitaries' Metro Bloc, for example, was hit hard when its leader refused to go along with the peace process. Leftist senators in Congress, citing the human rights publication Noche y Niebla, say paramilitary gunmen have continued to kill civilians, some 600 in the first half of 2003.

· EU High Representative Javier Solana and Colombian President Uribe attend the signing ceremony of an agreement between Colombia and the Europol, aimed at enhancing cooperation between the EU and Colombia in "preventing, suppressing and investigating serious forms of international crime".

· Pope John Paul II names Luis Felipe Sanchez the new Bishop of Chiquinquira. He has previously worked as a General Vicar for the Diocese of Garagoa and as Director of the Pastoral Diocesan Institute in the same city.

Tues 10 – Europe to grill Uribe on human rights; UNHCR condemns murders of IDP leaders.

Isabel Hilton, writing in The Guardian, reports that Uribe is in Europe to seek support. She argues that Uribe wants the moral endorsement of a donors' conference this year as he seeks constitutional changes that would allow him a further term in office, but has so far proved unwilling to implement a list of 24 recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in an attempt to address the "massive and systematic violations of (human) rights" that the commission found in Colombia in 2002. While Uribe claims that his fight is with the FARC, the majority of the victims have been civilians, she notes.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) strongly condemns the murders of two members of an association of internally displaced persons in Apartado, (Antioquia). Unidentified armed men murdered Marta Cecilia Aguirre and Giovanni de Jesus Montoya in front of their homes in separate attacks. Mrs. Aguirre was a founding member of the Apartado Displaced Persons Community Association and currently served as its vice-chairperson. Mr. Montoya Molina, from Antioquia was also a member of the association after being displaced five months earlier. UNHCR offers its condolences to the families of the victims and calls on authorities to investigate these crimes and to prosecute those responsible; they also call for the protection of IDP leaders who have been threatened in other parts of Colombia.

Charitable organisation Oxfam-Canada urges Canadians not to express their love on Valentine's Day at the expense of the dignity of underpaid Colombian workers. Oxfam says people should tell their florists they want products that were bought at a fair price. Colombian flower pickers and packers, mostly women, are being squeezed by globalisation and make less than a dollar an hour picking flowers; Oxfam Canada says labour reforms in Colombia, second only to Holland in fresh flower exports, have cut back overtime pay.


Weds 11 – Uribe defends antiterrorist legislation; Venezuela grants Colombians refugee status.

In a meeting with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, President Uribe Velez rejects allegations of human rights abuses, adding that his anti-terrorism policy was necessary to wipe out left-wing rebels involved in drug trafficking and kidnap. UK Labour MEP Richard Howitt, just back from a visit to Colombia, said the European Union had to take a tough stance in negotiating a trade deal with Colombia to protect human rights. "The Colombian government has deliberately flouted United Nations human rights recommendations ... by transferring ... judicial powers to the Colombian army which together with its paramilitary allies are responsible for more than three quarters of all the atrocities," he said.

UNHCR hailed Venezuela's granting of refugee status to the first group of Colombian asylum seekers to pass through its new application process. Venezuela's action grants the 47 Colombians formal identification papers recognising their right to live, work and study in the country. "For victims of the Colombian conflict, the granting of refugee status is important because it opens up the possibility of rebuilding their lives in Venezuela," UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski reports. Adding that the action constituted a "historic step towards international refugee protection."

The Attorney General's office reports that Jhony de Jesus Lopez Patiño, an attorney from Medellin has been condemned to 78 months in prison for abuse of authority and complicity in the escape of a paramilitary commander from the jail of Bellavista,

Former Colombia soccer player Albeiro Usuriaga is killed by an unidentified gunman who shot him seven times in front of his apartment in Cali. The motive was not known, police said, Reuters reports.

The Colombian government plans to sign an agreement with Spain's Santander Central Hispano bank to manage the privatisation of natural gas transport company Ecogas. Santander was awarded the contract at the end of January and is negotiating the contract with the Department for National Planning, SNE reports.


Thurs 12 - CREDHOS denounces more killings in Barranca; pact targets smugglers in Amazonia.

The regional committee for human rights in the Magdalena Medio region (CREDHOS) reports that the human rights and humanitarian crisis affecting the city of Barrancabermeja is worsening. 18 people have been killed so far in 2004, nine in the last ten days, apparently by paramilitaries. They also report that the authorities in the city are not doing enough to confront this group, favouring the consolidation of this illegal forces.

Brazil, Colombia and Peru have signed an agreement to join the fight against arms and drug smuggling across their shared borders. Under the accord, the countries will share information about smugglers and co-ordinate military operations. The move is seen by Colombia as a significant step in the fight against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, who tax the drug trade to finance their war. Colombian authorities estimate that 20% of Colombia's drugs are transported along the Amazon to Brazil and other markets.

Pope John Paul II has told Colombian President Alvaro Uribe he is praying for social peace and an end to decades of violence in the South American country. The pope met Mr. Uribe at the Vatican saying it is time to create the foundations for rebuilding the country and for fostering a just and peaceful society in Colombia, condemning any kind of violence.

Colombian Ambassador in Madrid, Noemi Sanin announces that Spanish President Aznar will be visiting Colombia next week. She also acknowledges the support made by Aznar's government to "the fight against terrorism", by being the first European country to "collaborate" with military aid, El Pais reports.

The Colombian government acknowledges that paramilitary groups are not complying with the cease-fire, the pre-condition under which the Colombian government started peace negotiations. Vice-president Santos reports in a meeting in Monteria (Cordoba) that these groups need to fulfil the conditions agreed in the negotiation, and that those that are not participating in the peace process will be confronted, El Tiempo reports.


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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