Colombia This Week -- May 27, 2003

Fri 16- EU announce new peace laboratory for Colombia; Blair to lead international war on drugs

· Director of the European Union Agency for Cooperation with Latin America, Fernando Cardesa reports that the EU is planning to support a new "peace laboratory programme" in Colombia. He says that the positive experience of the current programme in the Magdalena Medio will be expanded to other regions in Colombia.

· The Daily Telegraph reports that PM Tony Blair is to convene an international conference in London to encourage European Union countries to do more to tackle FARC members, who control Colombia's drug trade. It also notes that the White House now views Colombia as a key target in the war against terrorism, a shift in policy that has led to increased US military support to the Colombian government.

· In an interview in El Tiempo, the European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Chris Patten reports that the European Commission has neither the capacity nor the mandate to provide military aid to Colombia. He also says that this is not the kind of aid that European countries want to make to Colombia, since they would prefer to support initiatives to combat the causes underlying the violence.

· A survey conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that coca cultivation has remained stable in Peru. Aggregate coca cultivation in the Andean region has dropped in 2002 for the first time in a decade by 17% while cultivation in Colombia had decreased by 30% over the same period.


Sat 17 – Uribe calls on authorities to respect NGOs; Inspector General rejects referendum text.

· Uribe Vélez calls the Colombian public forces to protect and respects NGO's and human rights, "even if we don't share their views", El Tiempo reports. He also says that the government is looking for "judicial tools" that grants conditional freedom for those groups that agree to disarm and sign the peace accord, but are accused of crimes against humanity.

· Colombian Inspector General (Procurador) Edgardo Maya reports to the Colombian Constitutional Court that the Procuraduria rejects 14 of the 19 questions in the Referendum text proposed by the government.

· Gerardo Herrera, the Colombian citizen wanted in the kidnapping of numerous Americans, is extradited to the United States. Herrera is alleged to be a member of a group of kidnappers targeting Americans and other foreigners working across the border in Ecuador.

· Spanish press reports that 54% of the people repatriated by the Voluntary Return Program of the Spanish Ministry of Labour are Colombians.


Sun 18 – Rehabilitation zones fail to stop violence; UN Special Envoy calls for peace contacts.

· Colombian Inspector (Procurador) General Edgardo Maya and Human Rights Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes report that violence has increased in the Rehabilitation Zone in Arauca. They say that the civilian population now lives in fear and even the authorities themselves have no security. The Colombian Constitutional Court recently declared most of the emergency powers employed there as illegal.

· UN Special Envoy for Colombia James LeMoyne calls on the government and FARC for peace talks. In an interview in El Tiempo he also argues that most of the government soldiers fighting in the jungles and mountains of Colombia are the children of the poor, linking the social and armed conflict to the high levels of poverty and inequality in the country.

· José Trinidad Sierra, mayor of Saravena (Arauca) urges the government to intervene to stop combat between guerrillas and paramilitaries in the rural areas of this municipality. He reports that the communities affected are planning to displace from the area, Vanguardia Liberal reports.

· The next Rio Summit of the Andean Region (CAN) in Cuzco (Perú) on 23rd and 24th May will try to reposition the common Latin American agenda in the Andean region, in an effort to launch a multilateral agenda. Ecuador's President Lucio Gutierrez will announce an offer to mediate in the Colombian conflict, according to El Espectador.

· Authorities report they found five tons of explosives in southern Nariño allegedly destined for the FARC group.


Mon 19 – 5 Guahibos killed and 400 displaced in Arauca; minister rejects Lemoyne's comments.

· The Association of Indigenous Authorities from Arauca reports that more than 400 Indigenous Guahibos have been displaced from the rural area of Tame to Saravena (Arauca). They say that after combat between guerrilla groups and paramilitaries 5 civilians were killed in the crossfire and combatants raped 4 girls.

· Responding to the comments of the UN Secretary General Special Advisor on Colombia, Defence Minister Martha Lucía Ramirez says that she considers James Lemoyne's declarations "a defence of the interests of terrorists", after he give an interview to El Espectador appealing to the FARC group to make peace contacts.

· In a public letter addressed to the UN Special Envoy for Colombia James LeMoyne, the leaders of the paramilitaries Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso call for "political recognition" of the AUC by the United Nations. Recently the UN diplomat suggested that paramilitaries are not fighting the Colombian State and do not represent a threat to this government.

· Army reports that five soldiers and three paramilitaries have been killed in combat in a strategic area of the jungles of Meta. The place is believed to be a central drug trafficking zone.

· Under "Operation Tempestad" the Colombian Army carried out a massive raid on the city of Caquetá (Meta) arresting 70 people suspected of being FARC rebels.

· Authorities report that FARC members reportedly kidnap dozens of workers from the El Cerrejón coalmine in La Guajira but were forced to let them go when army troops converged on the scene.


Tues 20 – AI: Human rights seriously undermined in Colombia; troops steal $14m in robbery

· Amnesty International expresses deep concerns after the Colombian House of Representatives votes in favour of reforming the Constitution to grant judicial police powers to the armed forces. The vote is the second of eight required before the bill becomes law.

· More than 100 Colombian soldiers are on the run after stealing $14m. Many of the officers from the anti-guerrilla force resigned or simply vanished after they stumbled on the money, which is believed to be the proceeds from kidnap ransoms and cocaine-trafficking carried out by the FARC group, Financial Times reports.

· James LeMoyne's office releases a statement saying that the UN has never defended terrorism and in no way seeks to justify violence of any armed group, adding that any future UN effort to facilitate peace talks "requires an attempt to understand those involved in the conflict in order to deal with them, and reach a negotiated solution".

· Colombian government urges Congressmen to approve the anti-terrorist bill for 5 years and announces its decision to convert the judicial police powers to the armed forces as "permanent legislation".

· Gabriel García Marquez calls for the legalisation of drugs as the only way to end Colombia's civil conflict. He also mentions the millions of Colombians displaced by the internal conflict in a note sent to Medellín's top University of Antioquia as it celebrates its 200th anniversary.

· Pope John Paul II sent a telegram to the families of the 10 hostages killed by FARC in a rescue attempt in Antioquia, expressing "once again his most energetic condemnation of acts against terrorism which undermine peaceful co-existence and offend the deepest sentiments of the human person" the Catholic Herald reports.

· One paramilitary is killed and another injured in El Tambo (Cauca) in combat with police forces, El Tiempo reports.


Weds 21 – Kofi Annan defends LeMoyne' comments; delegation of Bishops call for negotiations.

· UN Secretary Koffi Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard defends James LeMoyne saying that the UN Special Envoy's intention is not to take sides but to seek a peaceful solution to Colombia's conflict, now in it's 39th year, UN news reports.

· An international delegation of Bishops from Germany, USA, Spain, France, Italy and Guatemala visiting Colombia call for a negotiated political solution to the Colombian armed conflict. They also criticise existing impunity for those attacking the civilian population.

· In an interview with El Espectador, UN Special Envoy to Colombia, James LeMoyne, rules out participating in peace talks between the government and paramilitaries, adding that the "UN role is extended to parties that have communication problems but the Colombian government doesn't seem to have a big problem talking with the paramilitaries".

· After the massive arrests of soldiers in Caquetá, Defence Minister Martha Lucía Ramirez says that Colombia would need to raise military wages to avoid future corruption. Last year, 71 members of the anti-narcotics police were investigated after US$ 2 m in aid went missing, according to El Tiempo.

· Brazilian authorities suspect that members of FARC are crossing its jungle border and forcing young indigenous men to join their forces, Reuters reports.

· Three policemen are injured after an explosion in the centre of Medellín, El Colombiano reports.


Thurs 22 – 29 FARC members killed in combat with army.

· Authorities say that troops killed 29 FARC members in Vichada province, near Venezuela. One soldier was killed and two others were injured, according to Reuters.

· Police arrest the Mayor of Villahermosa (Tolima), Antonio Giraldo and seven other officials in the region on charges of having links with armed groups. The Governor of Tolima, Guillermo Jaramillo admitted that rural officials are regularly forced to attend meetings and meet with armed groups, in violation of the law, El Espectador reports.

· According to reports by UNHCR, a group of 400 members from the Kuna and Tule indigenous communities living close to the border with Panama, in the Uraba region, are considering leaving their ancestral lands and crossing the border into Panama, to escape threats and intimidation by Colombian irregular armed groups. They have been offered shelter by Kuna Indians who live in Panama.

· An article in the Washington Post suggests that the progress made in US foreign policy on the implementation of Plan Colombia needs continuation and expansion, adding that the situation requires a broader vision for the entire Andean region.

· The Colombian Constitutional Court approves the revision of two paragraphs from the Law 589 stating that the relatives of the disappeared and the kidnapped have the right to get salaries from the state as long as they are victims of this crime. Under previous legislation, law 589 required the state to pay salaries to the families for only two years, El Colombiano reports.








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