Colombia This Week -- March 29, 2004

Fri 19 - Indigenous and afrocolombians displaced in Choco; three soldiers killed by fellow troops.

The Indigenous and Afrocolombian communities living in the Medio Atrato river basin raise concerns regarding the presence of illegal armed groups in the area in which they live. According to the Diocese of Quibdo, hundreds of paramilitaries from the Elmer Cardenas block are living within the civilian population despite the presence of the Colombian army in the area. Military authorities maintain that they remain in control of the Atrato River basin. Hundreds of people from these communities have already displaced to safer areas.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Defence reports that three soldiers have been accidentally killed by fellow troops during a planned night assault on a rebel encampment in Nariño, El Tiempo reports.

Authorities step up security in Bogota after police foiled an attempted car bombing in the city centre. Informants told police shortly before dawn that a stolen taxi packed with explosives was parked in Bogota's main commercial district. "The system of explosives was new and for that reason we had to take the vehicle to the trash dump, where it could be destroyed without danger," Vasquez said. There was no immediate indication of who was behind the attempted bombing, nor the intended target.

Authorities in Cali seized nearly US$3 million in cash, cars, motorbikes, grenades and several assault rifles in raids on two apartments in the Flora district. Six people were also detained in the raids against suspected drug traffickers, El Pais reports.


Sat 20 - Colombian soldiers accidentally kill 4 civilians and 7 police officers in Nariño.

Soldiers searching for rebels in rural southwest Colombia accidentally ambushed a police unit, killing seven police officers and four civilian prisoners, police said. Preliminary reports indicate that police had just detained four suspected criminals and were taking them to the city of Pasto, when the soldiers, mistaking them for rebels, attacked them. Local media reports that the soldiers stopped shooting when they heard shouts identifying the group as police officers.

Bush is set to host Uribe at the Oval Office. According to a Whitehouse spokesperson they will be discussing the ways they can work together to achieve common goals with respect to security, trade and justice. Colombia wants Washington to continue providing aid until at least 2009. Uribe will also be pushing for talks of a free trade agreement with the United States. "As close partners in the war on terrorism, the two leaders will also review efforts to defeat transnational narco-terrorist groups in the Americas," El Tiempo reports.


Sun 21 – Two trade unionists killed; workers receive threats because of Coca Cola campaign.

The Colombian Trade Workers Union (CUT) reports the killing of teacher Ana Elizabeth Toledo in the city of Arauca by unknown gunmen. They also report the killing of taxi driver Rafael Segundo Vergara in the city of Cartagena. The CUT is calling on the Colombian government to protect the lives of trade unionists.

Seven days of hunger strike and the struggle of the Coca Cola trade union workers continues. They report that on 19 March a communiqué on the letter-headed paper of the United Self Defences of Colombia was circulated in Cali, reiterating threats already made against SINTRAINAL and making them official. Despite the positive figures that the government of Colombia has presented in Europe, trade unionists are killed in Colombia everyday and the level of impunity for these crimes has risen to 95% of all cases.


Mon 22 – Uribe seeks US aid extension and US seeks more troops and advisers in Colombia.

President Uribe Velez is starting a US visit in which he will ask for trade concessions and more military aid. Uribe says he will aim for a bilateral free-trade agreement and ask for an extension to the joint offensive against drug production. Colombia has received more than $3bn in US aid - most of it military - in the past five years. This makes it the third largest US aid recipient, after Israel and Egypt. The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Bogota says both of Mr Uribe's requests are likely to be granted, although there will be conditions attached. The US Congress is concerned about Colombia's human rights record and the collateral damage being caused by the Colombian security forces on the offensive armed with sweeping legal powers.

US Government asks Congress to increase the number of troops and military contractors in Colombia to 1,400 at any one time, to step up the campaign against drug trafficking and terrorism. Colombia agrees on the need to raise the cap on U.S. soldiers and advisers from 400 to 800,and to lift the limit on contractors to 600 from 400. Uribe plans to meet with U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the results of Plan Colombia, which expires next year, El Tiempo reports.

Combat in the municipality of Tame and Puerto Rondon (Arauca) between members of the FARC, ELN and the paramilitaries leave five people death. The Army’s XVIII brigade has a permanent presence of in the area, Vanguardia Liberal reports.

The Bush administration released eradication estimates showing solid progress in wiping out coca crops in the Andean region, prompting some officials to predict that by the end of this year there will be no significant plantations of mature plants to feed Colombia's cocaine production. The estimates on the Colombia fields for 2003, which were prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency, show a 21 percent decline in the cultivation of coca. In the same period, Peru registered a drop of 15 percent, but Bolivia charted a 17 percent increase. The figures show a regional reduction of more than 15 percent last year and officials say this leaves production totals at their lowest level since estimates began in 1986, New York Times reports.



Tues 23 – Paramilitaries call US Gov. for negotiations; In Dublin, Santos defends “the three trial”.

Paramilitary commanders asked the United States to join negotiations aimed at disarming their fighters, in an apparent attempt to tackle the U.S. extradition requests. It also wants representatives of the U.S. State and Justice departments to be involved in talks, in which AUC bosses are pushing for guarantees to keep them out of jail. Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso are wanted by U.S. courts for smuggling 17 tons of cocaine to the United States and Europe, Reuters reports.

Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos has defended his country's legal system following criticism of the trial of the three Irishmen accused of training FARC members in Colombia. Speaking before the Dáil foreign affairs committee, Santos insisted that the Colombian judiciary “was independent from the government”. He also said it was wrong to think that outside forces could influence the trial of the so-called ‘Colombia Three’. Supporters of Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley have claimed that the three men did not receive a fair trial because of prejudicial comments made by leading politicians.

President of the Colombian Conservative party, Carlos Holguin reports that he will support the legislation to allow President Uribe Velez to run for another term, adding that this would require a new “political agreement”. Under the Colombian Constitution, all the elected representatives across the country are only illegible to run for one single term, El Tiempo reports.

In a letter to the Colombian government, Colombian trade unionist leader Domingo Tovar reports that he and his family are receiving daily death threats and calls the Interior Ministry to provide more protection and guarantees for him and his relatives.

The Japanese government announces that it includes the Colombian illegal armed groups, ELN, FARC and AUC -along with another 18 international organisations- into the list of groups laundering money with terrorist purposes, El Colombiano reports.


Weds 24 – US claims victory in drug battle and wants to double US army presence in Colombia.

US officials claim victory in the fight against drugs in Colombia, reporting a "dramatic" drop in the area dedicated to the cultivation of coca, the raw material for cocaine. The White House's office of national drug control policy said aerial spraying of drug crops had decreased coca plantations by 21%, from 144,450 hectares (337,000 acres) in 2002 to 113,850 hectares in 2003. Critics questioned the figures, saying the supply in the US appeared to have remained stable. "If fumigation were truly reducing the supply of coca, the price would be expected to rise," Adam Isacson, director of the Centre for International Policy, said. "[Yet] all our efforts have yielded no rise in cocaine prices,” Guardian reports.

According to El Espectador some Colombian Congressmen and Lawyers have been denouncing the pressure and threats made by paramilitaries, rebels and narcotraffickers in order to obstruct the extradition process of certain Colombian nationals to the US authorities. The extradition is an obstacle to the peace process with the paramilitaries and some Congressmen suggested this week that the current extradition processes should be included in the “alternative penal law” discussed in the Congress.

The Colombian army detain 17 people, suspected to be members of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP), -a dissident group of the ELN- in the municipality of Montecristo (Bolivar) El Tiempo reports.

As the Colombian Congress begins discussions regarding the antiterrorist bill, Amnesty International warns that the proposed measures undermine human rights guarantees, adding, “If the government is truly committed to tackling the human rights crisis it should instead strengthen the civilian justice system to ensure progress in criminal investigations into human rights violations".


Thurs 25- K. Annan concern on human rights in Colombia; Minister drops plans to spray parks.

UN Secretary General Koffi Annan welcomes the 2004 UN Human Rights Report on Colombia, supporting the work of the mission in Colombia, which is headed by Swedish diplomat Michael Frühling. The UN Secretary General calls the Colombian government to implement the UN recommendations made by the High Commissioner and urges all illegal armed groups to stop the violations against International Humanitarian law.

Environment Minister Sandra Suarez says the Colombian government has dropped plans to spray coca crops in the country's national parks, a proposal that drew criticism from environmental groups. "There won't be any spraying in the parks until other alternatives are examined, such as manual eradication," she said. Colombia's national parks were originally excluded from the country's U.S.-funded Plan Colombia spraying campaign. But the government authorized spraying in the parks last year, prompting an outcry from environmentalists and criticisms in Colombian media, Reuters reports.

In a statement sent to the media in Cartagena, (Bolivar) the “northern front” of the National Liberation Army (ELN) proposes regional dialogues with the authorities in order to strive for a political solution to the conflict. Governor of Bolivar, Libardo Simancas offers a territory in this northern department to hold the meetings, prior to consultation with the administration of president Uribe Velez, RCN radio reports.

Colombia's army chief Gen. Orlando Carreño reports that warplanes preparing to bomb a paramilitary camp near the town of El Arenal abandoned their mission after militants used villagers as human shields. A soldier and 14 paramilitary gunmen were killed in subsequent firefights. The clashes at the camp holding 150 members of the Central Bolivar Bloc, or BCB, erupted as the army waged a campaign to expel this armed group from the oil-rich region of the Magdalena Medio. Military intelligence officials said the BCB is trying to wrest control of the region from the National Liberation Army, despite declaring a unilateral cease-fire and pursuing peace talks with the government, AP reports.


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