Colombia this Week -- January 26, 2004

Fri 16- 11,000 child soldiers recruited by groups in Colombia; "paras" could form political parties.

· According to human rights report by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, "a massive increase in recruitment occurred during 2003." The report from Colombia puts the number of children used by armed groups at some 11,000. The reports notes that while Colombian government forces do not recruit children under the age of 18, this age group has been offered money to act as informants and peasant soldiers.

· The Colombian government will not ban disarmed paramilitaries from forming political parties. The announcement made by Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo came on the second day of public hearings to discuss a paramilitary demobilisation process that began in January 2003. If groups such as the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) agree to disarm, they would be granted the same rights to form political organisations as other citizens. He emphasised that the nation's two largest guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), would be offered the same deal.


Sat 17 Colombian media reports on paramilitary land tenure after years of forced displacement.

· In its January 12 edition, the weekly magazine Cambio reports that it is no secret that the paramilitaries, just like the guerrillas, are nourished by the drug trade and that their actions have displaced thousands of people, forced to leave their lands in order to save their own lives. This has brought a substantial transformation in land tenure, and most analysts agree that a process of reparation to the victims of paramilitary violence should include, in addition to indemnities, the return of land. To illustrate the point, Cambio quotes an unnamed criminal science professor: "Somebody steals my wallet and asks me to forgive and forget. I say, sure, but give me back the wallet and then I'll forgive and forget. In the case of the paramilitaries, they've waged a 10-year war to end up with land and now they want peace without giving back the wallet."

· According to Gilberto Toro, Director of the Colombian Federation of Municipalities, 55 of Colombia's 1,098 cities and villages operate by "remote control" with their mayors living and working in other cities. "There's no doubt that the security policies of President Uribe Velez have helped us recuperate local governability", he said, adding that the situation is not 100% secure but progress has been made, El Tiempo reports.

· The Municipal Workers Union of the Public Enterprises of Cali, SINTRAEMCALI, the Association for Research and Action NOMADESC and other members of the Campaign PROHIBIDO OLVIDAR (Forbidden to Forget) denounce the killing of comrade and tireless activist Ricardo Barragán. He was shot dead in the centre of Cali by two high velocity motorcycles.


Sun 18- Armed groups keep indigenous from getting vaccine; Colombians give Uribe high marks.

· Guerrillas and paramilitaries are preventing health workers from entering Colombia's Sierra Nevada to vaccinate native indigenous communities against an epidemic of yellow fever, the government reports. "Subversive groups, both the paramilitaries and the guerrillas, and coca-growers, are stopping the vaccination teams from getting in," according to the Colombian Social Protection Minister Diego Palacio, Reuters reports.

· A new poll in Colombia indicates that President Alvaro Uribe is the country's most popular politician in a decade. A Gallup poll published in El Colombiano shows Mr. Uribe's approval rating in December rose to 80 percent, the highest figure for any Colombian president a year into his tenure. Soaring approval comes despite one of the biggest political setbacks of Mr. Uribe's career - the defeat of a referendum in which he proposed political reforms and spending controls. The Gallup poll surveyed 1,000 people in Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla - from mid- to late December. A previous Gallup poll in October showed 75 percent of Colombians approved of Mr. Uribe's performance as president, VOA news reports.


Mon 19 - Indigenous denounce violations in Cauca & Boyaca; bomb stops Caño-Limon pipeline.

· In a public statement the Association of Indigenous Councils from Norte del Cauca (ACIN) reports that armed groups are putting pressure on the area used by their communities and their inhabitants. They also denounce that the Colombian army killed Olmedo Ul Secué, member of the association, at a checkpoint near La Ninfa.

· The U'wa indigenous Cabild of Mayors denounces that members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) killed Yamile Esther García Uncasia, member of the community in Cubara, (Boyaca). They also demand that armed groups respect their right to remain outside the conflict.

· Colombia's main export pipeline Caño Limon stops pumping temporarily due to a rebel bomb that exploded 42 kilometres from the start of the line, an army spokesman says. The pipeline, which serves Occidental's Caño Limon field, has been blown up three times this year, compared with 34 times during 2003. State oil firm ECOPETROL jointly owns the pipeline with U.S- based Occidental Petroleum Inc., Dow Jones reports.


Tues 20 -Former paramilitary delivers speech at Congress; Policeman captured for narcotraffick.

· Giovanni Marin, former leader of the Nutibara Block form the Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) delivers an unprecedented address to Congress calling for legislation to protect all paramilitaries who put down their arms. He also said that legislation is necessary to prevent the current peace process between the government and the paramilitary groups from derailing. "We want to ask forgiveness for all the harm that we caused," Marin said in an address televised nationwide, "We committed some really painful acts in our past." AP reports.

· The Attorney General's Office captures policeman Jose Manuel Vengoechea Gomez. He has been accused of narcotrafficking after reportedly transporting 500 kilogrammes of cocaine in Planeta Rica (Cordoba) and receiving 500 m pesos from the paramilitaries responsible for the shipment.

· In an article in the Irish Times, Ana Carrigan reports that during the visit of Chris Patten to Colombia he will meet Colombian and European NGOs working for human rights with EC financial support. Since President Uribe attacked human rights defenders in September 2003, accusing them of being "defenders of terrorism," the human rights community has been subjected to an orchestrated campaign of harassment.

· Gen. German Galvis Corona reports that 7 paramilitaries are captured in San Eduardo de Aguachica (Cesar) after a tip-off by informants, El Colombiano reports.

· Government sources report (CNE reports) the donation of 95 m pesos made by the South Korean government in musical instruments. Last year, China and Japan also donated 1,370 m pesos for a programme presented by President Uribe Velez to the international community to tackle the conflict in the rural areas of Colombia.


Weds 21 - Europe criticises Colombia on human rights; emergency for yellow fever epidemic.

· Europe has indirectly rebuked the Colombian Government over radical anti-terror laws, asking it to respect the rule of law in its grinding civil war. European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Chris Patten, currently visiting Colombia said he was "supportive of the fight against terror "in principle" but the best way to fight terrorism and the best way of achieving stability is always to operate within the rule of law". He also criticised the US-backed Plan Colombia saying it is ineffective. Rights groups have welcomed Mr Patten's comments, BBC reports.

· The Colombian government closes five natural parks along the Caribbean coast following an epidemic of yellow fever that has killed four people. Despite the initial reports made by the state news agency SNE denying further victims, urban areas like Bogota, Bucaramanga and Manizales have been hit by the epidemic of mosquito-borne yellow fever, El Espectador reports.

· The Colombian army reports that combats left 6 people dead in Antioquia. According to the reports, one soldier and four FARC members were killed in Frontino. In a separate incident another suspected FARC member was killed by soldiers in the municipality of Yondo (Antioquia), El Colombiano reports.

· The offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Colombia and Panama report on the return of the 84 Colombians from Jaqué to Juradó arranged bilaterally by the Colombian and Panamanian governments. The UN refugee agency was invited by both governments to play an observation and monitoring role. UNHCR, from the very start, insisted that any repatriation must be strictly voluntary, that families must not be separated and that the necessary security and infrastructure conditions had to exist in areas of return in Colombia in order to comply with the principles of safety and dignity.

· The court in the trial of Peru's former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos is to call on the director of the US intelligence service CIA to testify about his relationship with Montesinos. Montesinos is accused of involvement in the smuggling of 10,000 rifles from Jordan to members of the Colombian rebel group FARC. Prosecutors have said that evidence shows Montesinos had CIA support in the operation, BBC reports.


Thurs 22 - Patten: peace talks with FARC top EU agenda; Paramilitaries caught seizing land.

· While visiting the EU-funded ``peace laboratories'' in the Magdalena Medio, European Commissioner Chris Patten reports that FARC "should simply engage in negotiations and not make impossible demands", as this group has repeatedly rebuffed the government's appeals to declare a cease-fire and resume the peace talks that collapsed two years ago. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's top envoy in Colombia, James LeMoyne, who also attended the news conference, said he "still holds out hope that a negotiated solution to the civil war could be found". President Uribe, in a speech to diplomats, repeated that his government would not enter peace talks until the armed groups halt their violence, El Tiempo reports.

· Human rights groups, UN officials and land experts in the government denounce that Colombian paramilitary groups are illegally seizing Colombia's most fertile land. According to the reports, as the government negotiates demobilisation with the 15,000-member group, their leaders are quietly laundering accumulated drug money by taking control of huge tracts, often at the point of a gun. Most of the victims are poor, voiceless farmers, but the officials say even some big landowners have lost their prized farms. The only solution, say diplomats and land use experts, is an aggressive effort to root out corrupt owners, return stolen property to the rightful owners and parcel out untitled land to the landless, New York Times reports.

· In a statement on their website, the Permanent Assembly of the Colombian Civil Society for Peace supports the visit of the European Commissioner Chris Patten and his comments on the need by the Colombian Government to fulfil the UN Recommendations for Human Rights. The statement also criticises the comments made by Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos that called Europeans "neo-colonialists" because of the EU criticisms of the anti-terrorist bill approved in Congress.

· In an urgent action the Peasants Association of the Cimitarra Valley River (ACVC) reports that more than 200 armed men, -according to witnesses members from the Tacines and the Palagua Army battalions accompanied by paramilitaries- appeared in the municipality of Remedios, (Antioquia), killing three people and torturing and abusing four others. The report also says that all of their belongings were stolen including 70 heads of cattle, calling on the authorities to protect the communities.

· Swedish Ambassador in Colombia Olof Skoog, denies the reports made by President Uribe in which he claims (on the Colombian State news web page) the support of the international community for the democratic security policies.


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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