Colombia This Week -- July 28, 2003

Dear Friends,

This is the latest copy of "Colombia This Week".

Please note that due to a staff trip to Colombia there will be no CTW for the next two weeks.

The next copy of "Colombia This Week" will be sent on 26th August 2003.


Mikel Prieto

ABColombia Group

Fri 18 – Army deployment in Cundinamarca; Police Commander sacked on drugs allegation.

· Around 1,100 soldiers from the army's 13th Brigade and 3rd Airmobile Brigade are deployed to the municipalities of La Palma, Yacopi and Caparrapi (Cundinamarca) as part of the continuing "Operation Freedom One". Authorities report that they are attempting to drive out FARC's presence, El Espectador reports.

· National Police Commander Gen Teodoro Campo reports that Col. Luis Estupinan, the police commander for the Atlántico department, was removed from his post following allegations that his officers accepted US $1m in bribes to return confiscated cocaine to local drug-traffickers.

· Analysts at the Guardian suggest that Uribe's symbolic gesture - which coincided with the AUC peace declaration to temporarily move the seat of government from Bogotá to Arauca, "smacks less of patriotic bravery than of cowardly cynicism".

· Colombian NGO Free Country (Pais Libre) releases data recording 1,016 kidnappings nationwide between 1 January and 30 June 2003.


Sat 19 – Six army officials to be investigated for responsibility in Bojaya massacre.

· Latin America press reports that a year after the massacre in Bojayá, (Chocó) in which 109 afro Colombians were killed, the Colombian Prosecutor's office has opened a disciplinary investigation concerning six high-ranking military officials for presumed non-fulfilment of their responsibility to protect the people of Bojayá. Among them are General. Leonel Gómez, former commander of the army's First Division and General Mario Montoya Uribe, former commander of the Medellin-based IV Brigade.

· The Association of Relatives of Detained –Disappeared in Colombia (ASFADDES) reports on the disappearance of Nhora Cecilia Velazquez, after unknown people abducted her near the municipality of Viota (Cundinamarca). She was visiting the displaced women of this municipality.

· A military spokesman reports that troops killed at least four FARC members and captured arms and communications equipment in Los Azules (Cauca).


Sun 20 – FARC request meeting with Kofi Annan; Congressmen propose Uribe's second term.

· According to Colombian media, leaders of the FARC group have requested a meeting with the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan to express their views on the Colombian conflict. They also designated Raul Reyes as a spokesperson for such a meeting.

· William Vélez and 40 other legislators publish a statement in favour of a constitutional amendment that would allow Uribe Vélez to seek a second consecutive term in office. Currently, the Colombian constitution only allows for one four-year term of office with no possibility of consecutive re-election.

· With Colombia now involved in Washington's war on terror, human rights have taken a back seat with regard to U.S. military aid, reports Gary Leech in ????. A March 2003 United Nations report claims that human rights abuses committed by the Colombian military have increased since Uribe assumed the Presidency last August.

· Senator Germán Vargas Lleras is elected as president of the Senate (upper house of Congress). Vargas Lleras is a key ally of President Uribe Vélez. Conservative deputy Alonso Acosta also assumes the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies (lower house).


Mon 21 – Ombudsman Cifuentes to leave Colombia ; paramilitaries may avoid prison sentences.

· Colombian Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes announces that he will be leaving Colombia to direct the Human Rights office of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO). He has been a critic of Uribe's policies, including the suspension of basic rights in "rehabilitation zones". More recently, Mr. Cifuentes raised concerns that the Uribe government's negotiations with paramilitary groups may allow individuals who have committed crimes against humanity to escape justice.

· In a televised interview, paramilitary commander Carlos Castaño concedes that the AUC has committed "regrettable excesses" in its battle against guerrillas since the 1980s. The Colombian government has reported that instead of prison sentences for some of Colombia's most notorious paramilitaries, many of whom have been accused of committing crimes against humanity, they may simply have to make "reparations" - anything from monetary compensation to victims' families to facing a truth commission in which they would reveal their crimes.

· Authorities report that members of the FARC killed seven police officers and a soldier and kidnapped 15 people at a roadblock near Quinchia, (Risaralda).

· French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy announces the creation of a joint police intelligence centre in Fort-de-France (Martinique), staffed by British, Colombian, French and Spanish personnel that will target Colombian drug-trafficking gangs using routes through the Caribbean, Le Monde reports.

· Reporting on "close sources", El Tiempo says that the advisor of the paramilitaries during the peace negotiations, and the contact person for the US agencies and the US Embassy in Colombia, is the Argentinian citizen Alejandro Rubini.


Tues 22- C. Powell reports progress made in Colombia; International Coca Cola boycott launched

· In a report to the House of Representatives, US Secretary of State Colin Powell outlines the damaging impact of narcotics on the United States and Colombia. He also notes progress made in combating drug-crop cultivation and drug trafficking in Colombia avoiding reference to the human rights crisis affecting the country.

Trade Unions around the world have launched a boycott of Coca-Cola products alleging that the company's locally owned bottlers in Colombia used illegal paramilitary groups to intimidate, threaten and kill its workers. The Unions claim Coca-Cola bottlers hired the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia to murder nine union members at Colombian bottling plants in the past 13 years, the Guardian reports.

Colombian Congressman Luis Fernando Almario says that he has information that the FARC group have plans to target members of the Congress who are currently drawing up proposals to strengthen anti-terrorist and penal legislation.

In a letter to the Editor in the Washington Post, Paul Paz y Miño from Amnesty International (USA) refutes July 13th editorial on "Colombia's results". He says that Uribe's "heavy hand" policies have led to a human rights and humanitarian crisis for civilians all over the country, adding that last year Amnesty International reported more than 4,000 killings related to political violence. –"The editorial refers to a drop in the homicide rate, but does not explain that the drop was in overall crime, not in deaths because of political violence".

Army officers carry out a controlled explosion on a truck carrying up to 650kg of explosives in Tame, (Arauca). Authorities blame FARC for the truck-bomb.

Colombian government announces that it will spend US$ 2.9bn on defence in 2004, equivalent to 11% of government spending.


Weds 23 –Trade Unionist assassinated in Barranquilla; US Congress divided over Colombia's aid

Two unidentified gunmen shoot dead the leader of the ANTHOC hospital workers' union Carlos Barrero as he leaves work in Barranquilla, (Atlántico). Activists allege that a locally based paramilitary group known as Death to Trade Unionists (Muerte a Sindicalistas) is involved. He is the 42nd labour activist to be assassinated in Colombia this year.

Citing the links between Colombian military and paramilitary groups, US Congress and Senate are sharply divided after debating the human rights record of the Colombian Army and the efficacy of the US anti-drug policy. The amendment to the foreign appropriation bill will cut US $75 m from the $430 m in military and police assistance.

Human Rights groups from Arauca report that two unidentified gunmen carried out a massacre of five people in Saravena (Arauca). Three of them were workers from the local hospital calling for an investigation into the police force that was patrolling the area.

Members of the ELN group kidnapped five people at a roadblock near Quibdó, (Chocó). Local police sources said that two engineers and a doctor were among the victims, El Colombiano reports.

Visiting French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy agrees to cooperate with Colombian authorities to stem the trafficking of cocaine to Europe on behalf of France, Britain and Spain. Colombian Defence Minister, Marta Lucia Ramirez calls the deal a "fight of legitimate governments against trans-national drug crime and the terrorism it finances ".

Human Rights Watch director, Jose Maria Vivanco reports that the Colombian government need to ensure all three candidates for the replacement of Eduardo Cifuentes as Colombian Ombudsman must combine the same qualities of independence and expertise if this institution is to retain its critical role in bringing to light on-going and serious abuses.


Thurs 24 - France accused of secret mission; US Congress approves military aid to Colombia

France has been accused of disregarding the Colombian government by seeking to negotiate the release of Ingrid Betancourt, ex-presidential candidate from the green party Oxigene that has been held hostage by the FARC group for more than a year. Paris has denied the allegations but has admitted it sent a military transport aircraft to the Brazilian-Colombian border earlier this month on a "humanitarian mission", the Independent reports.

The US House of Representatives (lower house of Congress) voted down by 226 to 195 a proposal from Democratic Party representatives that US$75m of aid earmarked for Colombia under the foreign operations budget should instead be used to fund an anti HIV/AIDS campaign in southern Africa.

John Walters, head of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, reports in Bogotá that armed groups are running short of cash as the U.S.-backed military Plan Colombia squeezes the world's largest cocaine industry. He also says that the coca crop eradication program should also start causing supply disruptions in the United States within a year.

Reporting on the agreement between Colombian government and paramilitaries in Colombia, Christian Science Monitor reports that there could be a significant backlash by the Colombian public and the international community if Uribe's government decides to pursue reparation policies instead of prison sentences for the most brutal AUC combatants, some of who have been charged with dozens of murders. The AUC has committed infamous massacres of hundreds of civilians suspected of being rebel collaborators.

Kim Stanton, from the Washington Office on Latin America reports that while the US policy in Colombia claims to support the rule of law, violence, forced displacement and human rights violations attributed to the military have increased since Plan Colombia began.


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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