Colombia This Week -- July 21, 2002

Fri 11 – Mayor of Barrancabermeja charged with murder; Court gives go-ahead on referendum.

· Mayor of Barrancabermeja, Julio Cesar Ardila is charged with ordering the murder of Juan Emeterio Rivas, a radio journalist who had often accused him of being corrupt and having links to paramilitary groups. Three other officials from the city hall are also detained for their alleged roles in the killing. Authorities accuse three paramilitary fighters from the Central Bolivar Bloc of carrying out the killing. The group is one of three militia units committed to a paramilitary cease-fire.

· The Colombian Constitutional Court allows Uribe Vélez to put his plans to streamline the state to a national vote. The court approved 15 out of the 19 questions contained within the referendum, including a suggested cut of about 20% in the number of legislators and a two-year freeze on public-sector wages and pensions.

· Six leading US advocacy groups, (Amnesty International, US office on Colombia, Latin American working group, the Centre for International Policy, the Institute for Policy studies and the Washington Office on Latin America) issue a report on Washington's anti-narcotics aid programme for Colombia concluding that Plan Colombia has been a failure on human rights grounds and regarding the judiciary and the rule of law, warning that cultivation of coca and opium poppies has started up elsewhere in south-eastern Colombian departments.


Sat 12 – Vice-President aknowledges human rights cases; NGOs condemn security policies.

· Colombian Vice-president Francisco Santos admits in an interview with the Guardian that Colombian security forces had "made mistakes" and been responsible for human rights abuses against civilians. He also insists that this government is trying to cut off any links with paramilitary groups, arguing that the Colombian Army is now more conscious about human rights.

· After the final declaration made at the London Meeting on International Support for Colombia, 30 Colombian NGOs present a statement arguing that under Uribe's "democratic security policy" the population is not conceived as being entitled to rights, or as being the object of State protection, but as an instrument of war. Uribe has publicly declared that the principle of distinction between combatants and civilian population is not valid in Colombia.

· The Washington Post reports that critics of Plan Colombia "were wrong" because coca and poppy production has been substantially reduced. It also says that despite human rights monitors rightly expressing concern about the continuing links between military units and paramilitary forces that are engaged in drug trafficking and massacres against civilians, "reports of violations by the army itself are down".

· Besides the spending of $2.7 billion invested by United States in Plan Colombia, at least 17 US military, law enforcement and contract civilian employees have been killed in Colombia since 1998, including 5 this year. Critics of the Plan suggest that there is a link between the fumigation process and the increasing numbers of internally displaced affecting the country.


Sun 13 – Kofi Annan calls FARC to free Governor; Colombians to celebrate abroad 20th July

· UN Secretary general Kofi Annan calls the FARC group to free the ex-governor of the Meta department, Alan Jara, after being kidnapped for two years. He was kidnapped from a UN car at a roadblock.

· Ten percent of the Colombian population lives outside of the country, mainly in the United States, Spain, Venezuela and Ecuador. As Colombian communities abroad prepare to celebrate Colombia's Independence Day on July 20, the South Florida Sun-sentinel reports that for the first time in years people are starting to return to Colombia convinced of the favourable economic situation.

· Colombia's armed forces General Jorge Enrique Mora says that a negotiated settlement with guerrilla groups is unnecessary because the rebels could be defeated on the battlefield. The Colombian government is engaged in peace talks with some paramilitary groups, but it is not considering negotiations with all armed groups, Reuters reports.

· Weekly magazine Semana reports on a secret document drawn up by lawyers of well-known narcotraffickers in Costa Rica, outlining a plan to judicially negotiate amnesties with commanders of the paramilitaries. Senator Gustavo Petro says that an Attorney public servant from Medellin has been participating in the process, calling for a full investigation of the negotiations.


Mon 14 – Uribe rejects peace negotiations with FARC group; combats in Antioquia leave 7 dead.

· During a visit to Brazil, Uribe Vélez says that no possibilities exists for a peace dialogue with the FARC group, arguing that rebels need to be defeated militarily

· Combats between the army and rebel groups leave 7 dead in Eastern Antioquia. Commander of the IV Brigade, General Mario Montoya reports that a soldier and six members of FARC and ELN groups died, raising to 122 the death toll under the Operation Marcial.

· FARC releases a statement on their website rejecting the government claims of successes against their forces. It says that the claims of thousands killed, captured or deserted in Uribe's first year are aimed at diverting the attention of the international community from calls for peace talks with this armed group.

· An editorial at El Tiempo sheds doubt on the real control that paramilitary leaders Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso have over their troops and the regional commanders of the paramilitaries. It also suggests that the government is negotiating with a group of narcotraffickers who are using a political discourse to find ways to avoid extradition to the US and to legalise the fortunes made through the displacement of thousands of people.


The peace community of San Jose de Apartado reports the displacement of 59 families from the settlement of Mulatos. They call on authorities for medical and humanitarian aid to those displaced by combat between the army and armed groups in the area.

Colombian NGO Medios para la Paz publishes a report on 111 reported cases on the threats, kidnaps and killings that Colombian journalists have undergone covering the conflict. Eight journalists were killed in 2002 and 75 others received death threats from armed groups.


Tues 15 - Refugees overwhelm Colombia; Uribe to govern from army's brigade in Arauca.

Colombia is suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in the world after Iraq and Afghanistan, the country's Bishops said this week. More than three million people have been forced to flee the countryside as a result of the ongoing conflicts between left-wing rebels and the Government, Christian Tablet reports.

Uribe Vélez and an 80- strong entourage of ministers and military personal is moving to the area of Arauca to govern from the base of the Army's XVIII Brigade for three days. BBC reports.

Paramilitary forces in the municipality of Natagaima (Tolima) kill Alberto Marquez, trade unionist and member of the Colombian Communist party and his bodyguard Nelson Castiblanco. According to the NGO Reiniciar, the Colombian army and police forces intensively control the area. Reiniciar demands a full investigation of this political killing in which a five year old girl was also injured.

Commander of the Colombian Air forces, General Hector Fabio Velasco reports that key videotape with the recording of the Santo Domingo's bombardment was lost at the US Embassy in Bogota. 18 people, among them 6 children, were killed in 1998. The General denies any responsibility, calling the incident "collateral damage", El Colombiano reports.


Weds 16 – Uribe announces paramilitary peace talks; US sanctions to hurt Colombian drug war.

Nine paramilitary groups have agreed to demobilise their 13,000 fighters and begin formal peace negotiations with the Colombian government. Peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo announces, « the historic moment for the paramilitary forces has ended. They are no longer necessary », - an admission that they once served a useful purpose-, The Guardian reports.

Colombian Ambassador in Washington Luis Alberto Moreno reports that US plans to cut off US $135 m in military aid unless Colombia agrees to exempt Americans from the International Criminal Court (ICC) will hurt efforts to fight a war against narcotraffikers. The Colombian law prohibits the country from exempting non-military personnel from the ICC. He also dismisses assertions made by human rights organisations that Plan Colombia has not decreased the flow of drugs into the US and has created other problems in the process.

According to the Colombian Institute for Legal and Forensic Sciences, 28,534 Colombians were killed violently during 2002. This is a rise of 849 people compared to the previous year. 84 % of all those killings are young people between 14 and 26 years old. The Institute made the figures public despite government efforts to discredit the statistics, El Colombiano reports.

Police officers raid the house of a group of four international human rights defenders working in Bogotá. According to the Colombian NGO Reiniciar four officers accompanied by a dog were doing a « voluntary raid » in the premises of a Spanish, Norwegian, Italian and British citizens.

Colombia Solidarity Campaign, reporting on a Trade Union protest in London on 10th July in response to the London Meeting on International Support for Colombia, quote British MP Tony Lloyd who commented on the " fundamental incoherence between the idea of a negotiated political solution to the conflict and Uribe's policy of all out war".


Thur 17 –18 people disappeared in Comuna 13, Medellin; more trade unionists killed in Colombia.

The Ombudsman Office and local NGOs report that at least 18 people have been disappeared in the Comuna 13 since the authorities raided this barrio in Medellin last October during the "Operación Orion". According to El Tiempo, the communities are still in fear because the paramilitaries have taken over control of the area from the militias.

Responding to a letter sent to the Financial Times, Colombian Ambassador in London Alfonso López Caballero argues that the Uribe government is committed to the protection of trade union activists in Colombia. Despite the fact that 1,174 members of unions are receiving some kind of protection from the Colombian State, 92 trade Unionists have been assassinated since Uribe took over as President last August.

Senator Antonio Navarro Wolf says that as long as there is an on-going negotiation with the paramilitaries, the guerrillas will not advance toward talks with the government, since they consider that the paramilitaries are an extension of Colombia's military fighting the dirty war that the armed forces cannot. The government has prosecuted many members of the armed forces for collaborating with the paramilitaries, and is under US pressure to continue the crackdown.

Members of the Colombian judicial police arrest Attorney Raul Fonseca Martinez and two policemen in Bogotá. They are accused of robbery whilst using false raid orders, El Tiempo reports.

Analyst and ex-defence ministry advisor Alfredo Rangel says that at best the Colombian government would be able to demobilise some 30% of the total paramilitaries present in Colombia, since the raison d'etre of these groups has not been addressed.

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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