InfoBrief- May 12, 2003


InfoBrief is a weekly news summary of events in the U.S. and Colombia produced and distributed by the U.S. Office on Colombia. Colombia This Week is reproduced with the kind permission of the ABColombia Group in London. Other sources include U.S. and Latin American newspapers, and reports from non-profit and grassroots groups. The content does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Office on Colombia. If you would like to receive InfoBrief please contact indicating why you would be interested in this weekly news service.


U.S. Current Affairs & Media


* U.S. NGOs Condemn Killing of Governor Gaviria and Other Hostages The U.S. Office on Colombia joined several other organizations on May 7 in denouncing the killing of Antioquia Governor Guillermo Gaviria, former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverri and eight soldiers when the Colombian military tried to rescue them from their FARC captors. The NGOs held the FARC responsible for the well-being of all their hostages, and called for the immediate release of all kidnapping victims. The statement is available online at:


* U.S.-Trained Commandos Hunting Down Guerrilla Commanders The Boston Globe reported on May 5 that a new commando unit of the Colombian military began operations in April as part of a “decapitation strategy” to track down and capture or kill commanders of the ELN and FARC guerrillas and the AUC paramilitaries. Modeled after a U.S. Army Ranger battalion of 600 to 800 soldiers, the unit has reportedly captured or killed six regional guerrilla leaders. The article is available for the moment at:


* U.S. NGOs Declare Support for Colombian Civil Society’s “Confluencia” Initiative A number of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations, including the U.S. Office on Colombia, announced their support for the Confluencia por la Democracia y Contra la Guerra on May 6, the day that the initiative was formally launched in Bogotá. The NGOs and the broad-based Confluencia called on the government to respect the rule of law, declared their opposition to the war as a means of changing Colombian society and resolving Colombia’s social and political conflicts, and insisted that all armed actors end violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The statement is online at


* UNHCR Reports Upsurge in Colombians Seeking Asylum in Ecuador A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights announced in Geneva on March 9 that 5,100 Colombians requested asylum in Ecuador during the first four months of 2003, compared to 1,193 during the same period last year. According to the UNHCR, the increase coincides with expanded violence in the southern provinces of Putumayo, Caqueta and Nariño, where internal displacement is also on the rise.


* Sen. Reid Introduces TPS Legislation On May 5, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced “The Colombian Temporary Protected Status Act of 2003.” The bill, which was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, would make Colombian nationals eligible to receive Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and remain in the United States until conditions in Colombia allow for their return. The bill is online at:


* Rep. Delahunt’s Daughter Working with Colombian Embassy The Boston Globe reported on May 8 that the daughter of Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) assists the Colombian Embassy with media and government relations in her job at the firm Weber Shandwick. Rep. Delahunt promoted the $1.3 billion U.S. contribution to Plan Colombia in 2000, though in April this year he voted to block $61 million in security assistance to Colombia.


Upcoming Events and Seminars in the U.S.


* If you have news of upcoming events in your area please forward them to


Colombia This Week is reproduced with the kind permission of the ABColombia Group in London


Colombia This Week editing date: 05/12/03


Fri 02- Uribe: US drug interdiction flights to re-start; CUT: trade unionist assassinated.


· President Uribe Vélez says that the US drug flight interdiction programme in Colombia will resume soon. Senator Patrick Leahy has objected to any operation that could lead to military jets firing on unarmed civilians planes, “even if it is a drug flight”. The programme was suspended two years ago after a Peruvian fighter downed a civilian plane, killing a US missionary and her daughter.


· Regional president of the mining trade union SINTRAINAGRO Juan de Jesús Gómez is assassinated in San Martín (Cesar) on International Workers Day. He was involved in leading collective negotiations for workers in the palm oil sector. 15 trade unionists have been assassinated this year in Colombia.


· US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says that United States is considering transferring some military equipment from Iraq to Colombia. US drug policy chief John Walters says that US is considering expanding anti-drug flights in Colombia to intercepting illegal arms traffickers at the request of the Colombian government, Washington file reports.




Sat 03 - 1,800 people displaced in Bajo Calima; SIP condemns impunity on journalists’ killings.


· Colombian Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes calls for the presence of the army and denounces the killing of 8 people and the displacement of more than 1,800 people after combat between armed groups disputing the area of Bajo Calima in the municipality of Buenaventura (Valle).


· President of the Inter-American Press Society (SIP) Rafael Molina calls for investigation of the recent murders of two Colombian journalists in less than 24 hours, reporting that impunity makes journalists targets of the armed actors.


· Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announces that within three months it will approve a credit worth US $ 400 m to finance fiscal reforms and social plans of the Colombian Government.


· US based International Labour Rights Fund (ILRF) sends a letter to the US Attorney General John Ashcroft calling for action in response to the continued support of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) by US multinationals corporations working in Colombia, Colombia Support Network reports.


· Naming Colombian army sources, news agency France Press reports there are more than 1000 Colombian guerrilla members inside Venezuela, along with 19 guerrilla camps. The report also says there are more than 100 paramilitaries re-enforcing the area within the Venezuelan border.




Sun 04 – NGO reports extra-judicial killing; FARC frees kidnapped German businessman.


· The Regional Human Rights Committee Joel Sierra from Arauca reports the extra-judicial killing of local leader Alexis Riveros Contreras in Caño Negro municipality of Saravena reportedly carried out by soldiers from the Colombian XVIII Brigade.


· Military sources report that a 64-year-old German businessman Heiner Hansen, reportedly kidnapped by FARC members last December, was released near the Pacific port of Buenaventura.


· According to the US newspaper The Boston Globe, Colombian soldiers trained by US military have killed or captured six guerrilla leaders as part of a “decapitation strategy”. The report names US director of operations for the US Southern Command, Gen. Jackman, saying that within the past week they killed three FARC commanders and also captured three ELN leaders near the Venezuelan border.


· Authorities say they have seized a number of light aircraft and cars belonging to the FARC group in eastern Arauca during a week-long operation in which the military identified bank accounts used by this group.




Mon 05 - 10 hostages killed by FARC in army rescue; HRW condemns FARC for the killings.


· Governor of Antioquia Guillermo Gaviria and his Peace advisor and former Defence Minister Gilberto Echeverri along with eight other hostages are killed by FARC members during a rescue operation by the Colombian military in the municipality of Urrao (Antioquia).


· In a public statement Human Rights Watch (HRW) deplores the murders of the hostages and condemns FARC for its "horrendous record of kidnapping civilians”.


· President Uribe Vélez make a public statement on national TV concerning the botched rescue attempt of hostages held by the FARC. Uribe Vélez acknowledges his prior approval of the rescue attempt.


· US Senator Harry Reid introduce legislation to make nationals of Colombia eligible for temporary protected status (TPS) in United States. He says, “Colombians should qualify for the protected status because of an escalation in Colombia’s 38-year civil war”.


· Radio stations in Medellín broadcast a statement allegedly from the FARC blaming the government for the hostages’ deaths. The FARC had said that the lives of the hostages would be at risk if the army tried to rescue them, AP reports.




Tues 06 – Amnesty International condemns kidnapping; Army to continue rescue operations.


· In a public statement Amnesty International says that the practice of hostage-taking and the killing of prisoners are “violations of international humanitarian law”, reiterating its plea to the FARC "to put an immediate end to kidnapping and hostage-taking and to immediately and unconditionally release all victims of kidnapping."


· Vice-President Francisco Santos defends the rescue operation saying that the government is obliged to attempt rescues of kidnapped people. Armed forces commander Gen. Mora also defends the rescue operation and vows to continue to rescue the hundreds of other hostages held captive by armed groups.


· An “Early Day Motion” at the House of Commons in London was put forward by MP Jeremy Corbyn calling on the British government for the withdrawal of all British government support for Uribe’s crackdown. He urged them to stop all arms supplies to Colombia, and to condemn any police, armed forces or private companies co-operating with state repression in Colombia.


· El Tiempo reports that although FARC is ultimately responsible for the deaths, the government should consider “the cost of an operation that had exactly the opposite effect of that intended”, calling the hostages killings “an atrocious crime that will have unforeseen consequences for the armed conflict”.


· FARC says in a statement that the hostages were killed during clashes between the guerrillas and 600 soldiers who were trying to rescue the hostages.


· In its bulletin Pertinentes, PDPMM (Programa de Paz y Desarrollo del Magdalena Medio) reports on the Annual Meeting of Journalists in Barrancabermeja. It also announces the progress made on the different projects at the Peace Laboratory.


· Director of Colombian Communist newspaper VOZ, Carlos Lozano reports he has received death threats and his car has been followed in recent days by a vehicle with no number plates. He urges the government to renew the security protection programme.


· National Police Director Teodoro Campo reports that progress has been made in maintaining security under Uribe’s “democratic security” administration. He also reports there are only 78 municipalities without police presence in Colombia, predicting that there will be none after September.




Weds 07 – UN condemns Colombian hostage killings; relatives call for humanitarian accord.


· UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan strongly condemns the killings during a rescue attempt by the military in Colombia, adding that “these events should stimulate both profound reflection and immediate steps to stop the spiral of kidnappings, forced displacement, massacres and assassinations that have made civilians the primary victims of Colombia’s conflict”.


· Yolanda Pinto, wife of murdered governor Guillermo Gaviria speaks of reconciliation in a radio interview, pardoning the guerrillas who assassinated her husband. She said that Uribe had broken a promise with the family to contact them before any attempt at rescue, adding that she would continue fighting for a deal with the FARC. Family members of the kidnapped have long been pushing for a prisoner exchange.


· The European Union issues a statement condemning the latest FARC violence, saying that “EU members hope that all possible efforts will be made to safeguard the persons still kidnapped”, underlining that “hostage-taking is a crime recognised as an act of terrorism” and calling for the liberation of all hostages without preconditions.


· FARC member Nelson Vargas Rueda faces extradition to the United States. He reportedly participated in the killings of three American activists in 1999. This is the first time that a Colombian President has signed an extradition order for a member of a Colombian armed group.


· Relatives of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt implore Uribe Vélez to refrain from further armed rescue attempts. “It is imperative that President Uribe understands that violence and military operations will not solve this sensitive issue,” said family spokesman Dominique Voguet.


· According to Vanguardia Liberal, the Colombian Army killed two alleged members of the ELN militia in urban combat in the city of Saravena (Arauca).


· The Colombian press criticises some of the aspects of Monday’s operation; they say that the government did not use the army’s elite anti-kidnapping unit, using helicopters instead of stealth tactics. Reporters also question why they were barred from attending the TV speech made by the President and the Generals.


· Cartagena’s daily “El Universal” warns that if the huge economic disparity between the few haves and the many have-nots is not tackled, “there will not be enough soldiers to contain the wave of violence that will devastate the country”. The paper calls for the government and the guerrillas to reach an accord for the release of the remaining hostages.



Thurs 08 – NGO demands peace talks; Colombian Congress debates new anti-terrorist bill.


· Colombian NGO Permanent Committee for Human Rights condemns the killing of hostages kidnapped by FARC, urging the Colombian Government to re-activate the contacts with this armed group and negotiate a humanitarian exchange of prisoners.


· Colombian Congress has a preliminary debate on the new anti- terrorist bill proposed by the government that would give judicial powers to the Army, El Tiempo reports.


· Defence Minister Martha Lucía Ramirez reports that the government is considering using the International Criminal Court to punish crimes against humanity.


· One policeman is killed and another injured after a bomb explodes in the city of Saravena (Arauca). Authorities blame ELN militias for the attack.


· Colombian NGO ASFADDES (Association of Families of the Detained-Disappeared) fears for the safety of Fanny Corzo Vargas, Coordinator at the Bucaramanga branch after being detained by police forces when she was preparing a Seminar for the Disappeared in this city.








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.




If you would like to be put on the mailing list, please send an email message to, indicating why you would be interested in receiving this summary.




ABColombia Group


PO Box 100


London SE1 7RT


Tel: +44-(0) 20 – 7 523-2374


Fax: +44-(0) 20 – 7 960-2706









Executive Director

US Office on Colombia

1630 Connecticut Avenue NW Suite 201

Washington DC 20009

Phone: 202-232-8090

Fax: 202-232-8092