Colombia This Week -- February 23, 2004

Fri 13- Uribe visit to Europe sparks protests back home; UN: paramilitaries breaching cease-fire.

· President Uribe Vélez ends a five-day European visit. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder agreed to push the European Union to add the National Liberation Army (ELN), to its official list of terrorist groups. Uribe's trip scored some wins for Colombian exports: he negotiated a 10-year extension of European Union tariff reductions due to expire in 2006. He also secured monetary assistance for the paramilitary demobilisation and for a forest ranger programme. And he won a $184 million increase in aid to be disbursed through 2006, raising the sum to $410 million. However, he did not achieve his principal objective: "His visit had a boomerang effect: he wanted to obtain the approval of the European Union for a policy that leaves the paramilitaries in impunity, and it went the other way," said Francis Wurtz of the French United Left Party. "He failed and allowed many poorly informed legislators to gain a better idea about the terrible reality of Colombia", AP reports.

· UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, Michael Fruhling reports that paramilitary forces have violated the terms of ongoing peace talks with the government by repeatedly breaching a cease-fire. The accusation, following similar charges made recently by the US, cast fresh doubts on the government's much-criticised negotiations to disarm 20,000 paramilitary gunmen by 2005. "The cease-fire is not being respected. We have seen that in our trips to the field. Even the government knows it" said Fruhling.

· Indigenous from the communities of Ricaurte (Nariño) denounce the indiscriminate bombardment of indigenous communities by Colombian armed forces near the border with Ecuador. They claim that one school was completely destroyed and dozens of families have been displaced from the area.


Sat 14 – FARC attack Jambalo (Cauca); USA ‘no comment' on Uribe's re-election proposal.

· Colonel Mario Nel Flórez, from the Colombian National Police reports that members of the FARC attacked the municipality of Jambalo (Cauca), injuring one police officer, El Tiempo reports.

· Spokesperson from the US State Department dismisses the comments made by the US Ambassador in Colombia, William Wood, saying that the US administration "does not have any opinion" regarding the re-election intentions revealed by President Uribe Velez. Colombian Congress members are planning to campaign for a Constitutional change in order to make it possible, El Espectador reports.

· Eleven municipalities in Antioquia have the electricity service suspended after FARC members reportedly exploded two electricity towers between Angostura and Campamento (Antioquia). As a result of the explosions more than 130,000 people were left without electricity, El Colombiano reports.

· An article in The Economist on the trip made by President Uribe Velez to Europe reports that the Colombian president is entitled to feel some irritation with some European parliamentarians. Despite the fact that, albeit unwittingly Europeans who buy illicit drugs help to finance Colombian armed groups, the EU has only offered Colombia "a miserly" 105 m euros (US$ 133m) in aid over four years. Moreover, the article says, "the European Parliament condemns American military aid to Colombia at the same time as it calls for tougher Colombian military action against the paramilitary groups".


Sun 15 - Colombia cracks down on oil theft; official calls for Truth Commission in peace process.

· Up to 7,000 barrels of petrol a day are stolen from Colombia's oil pipelines. Paramilitaries are believed to be responsible for most of the thefts, using the proceeds to fund their war on the guerrillas. They siphon off petrol and other petroleum derivatives and then sell the fuel illegally. The Colombian authorities are now cracking down on the problem which reportedly costs the country's economy $75m a year, BBC reports.

· Alonso Salazar, responsible for the peace process with the paramilitaries in the city of Medellin reports that a "Truth Commission" is needed in order to guarantee a future and solid peace, in which former fighters can be forgiven by their communities, adding that if the government is not willing to create such a commission, the city mayor's office would do it, El Colombiano reports.

· El Tiempo reports that at least 75,000 people have been displaced in the Cauca department by paramilitary threats. Regional Peace Advisor, Fabio Orozco also reports that in rural areas of Palmira the guerrillas have forcibly displaced dozens of families, adding that the Colombian army and rebel groups are also fighting in Altaquer (Narino), putting civilians lives in danger.

· In comments published on Sunday in regional newspaper El Pais, U.S. Ambassador William Wood says, "It is clear that the paramilitaries have not completely met the commitments of the cease-fire." Human rights groups are harshly critical of Uribe's disarmament talks and have accused him of failing to crack down on the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym AUC.

Mon 16- UN rapporteur to review Colombia's freedom of press; bomb injures 22 in Casanare.

· UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Ambeyi Ligabo will visit Colombia following an invitation from the government. During the visit he is planning to meet with NGOs, government officials and journalists. According to the Institute for Press and Society six journalists were killed in 2003, and there were 69 attacks on journalists, including 14 kidnappings, Efe reports.

· Suspected FARC members detonate a bomb during a festival in Sacama (Casanare) injuring 22 people, including children. According to the authorities, residents were holding a party in the town's main park when a brawl broke out among revellers. As police went to break up the fight, the bomb exploded, wounding 11 children, five adult civilians and six police officers. Police originally reported that two of the officers died while being treated in a hospital, but later said medics were able to revive them. It was not immediately clear whether the brawl was a set-up, El Espectador reports.


Tues 17 – FARC commander "might have cancer"; Government: AUC still violating cease-fire.

Colombian rebel commander Manuel Marulanda has what appears to be advanced prostate cancer and may have six months to live. Journalist Patricia Lara, author of a history of the former M-19 guerrilla group and of articles on the conflict, said she learned of the rebel leader's illness from two well-informed people whom she declined to name. Marulanda, who is in his 70s has been one of the top leaders of the FARC since its founding in the mid-1960s. "His death would mark a generational change in the leadership of Latin America's oldest and best-armed guerrilla group" Lara reports.

Paramilitary fighters should be required to gather in special zones to keep them from violating a cease-fire, the government's Peace Commissioner reports. According to the United Nations, the Catholic Church and human rights groups, paramilitaries have killed about 600 people in the last year, even though most of the groups declared a unilateral cease-fire against leftist rebels in December 2002. "We must perfect the cessation of hostilities, and to do that, zones of concentration are needed," Carlos Restrepo told local radio. Though details of the plan are still being worked out, the paramilitary fighters would likely be put under the watch of the army, who would also protect them from attack by their rebel foes. Under a pact signed with the government in July, the AUC agreed to demobilise all its fighters by the end of 2005. About 1,000 have disarmed so far. Those concentrating in the special zones would eventually also put down their arms.

Members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) are suspected as responsible for the killing of Janeth Velez, teacher and Robeiro Alfonso Urrego Ibarra, carrier, in Lejanias, a rural area in the municipality of Remedios (Antioquia). They were found dead after being kidnapped on 4th February. The Antioquia Teachers' Association (ADIDA) condemns the attack and calls on the ELN to end attacks on civilians, El Colombiano reports.


Weds 18 – NGO report: excesses in massive raids; US extradites three AUC commanders.

Colombia's main NGO umbrella, the Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace presents a report in which it states that 90% of the people detained in mass arrests are innocent. They claim that in mass arrests carried out by the state forces, out of 4846 people detained, 3750 were freed without charges, and they call on the government to review the measures of the democratic security policies and guarantee the rights of civilians living in rural areas across Colombia, El Tiempo reports.

Paramilitary commander Edgar Fernando Blanco Puerta, known as "Comandante Emilio," accused of participating in a $25 million cocaine-for-guns deal, loses his fight against extradition from Costa Rica. With his extradition, authorities have in their custody the four major figures named in "Operation White Terror," a 13-month probe by the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration. Blanco Puerta is a commander in the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia, (AUC), a paramilitary organisation on the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organisations.

Amnesty International is seriously concerned for the safety of Jesús Alfonso Naranjo and Mario Mora, members of the human rights department of a Colombian health workers' union, (ANTHOC) following death threats against them. A written death threat was reportedly delivered to the central offices of ANTHOC in Bogotá bearing the logo of the Self Defence Forces of the Magdalena Medio, declaring the two men military targets.


Thurs 19 – US takes action against FARC and AUC leaders; Cacarica: new security threat.

The US has put 40 leaders of two armed Colombian militant groups on its list of international drug traffickers. They are from the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and their paramilitary rivals, United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC). Both groups are already on the US list of terrorist organisations. If apprehended, many of their leaders, who are wanted on terrorism charges by the US, may now also face extradition on drug charges.

Justice and Peace reports the threats made by paramilitary forces to the returned communities of internally displaced people in the Cacarica river basin. The Inter-Ecclesial Commission denounces the new threats made by this illegal group to the AfroColombians living in the humanitarian settlements, despite the presence of the Army's 17th Brigade in the area. They also report the presence of a paramilitary base in "La Balsa", only two hours away from the threatened communities.

Colombian paramilitary groups have killed more than 250 people and carried out sixteen massacres since declaring a cease-fire a year ago to start peace talks, Luis Carlos Restrepo, chief peace negotiator for the government, reports. "The chief peace envoy has made it known (to the paramilitary militias) that the cease-fire must be obeyed in its totality," Restrepo said in the report.

Colombia armed forces' chief Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina urges Manuel Marulanda, reportedly dying of prostate cancer, to surrender, adding in a news conference that the military is unable to confirm a magazine report that Manuel Marulanda, 73, is expected to live only a few more months, El Pais reports.

Three days after "signing" the so-called "political agreement", -an initiative made by the Colombian government and all the political groups with representation in Congress-, there is no final text presented to the public. According to El Tiempo the document signed last Monday "is only a declaration of intentions". Political groups like Polo Democratico and Convergencia Democratica have already rejected the plan, adding that this would give a "blank cheque" to the government of Uribe Velez.


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