Colombia This Week -- November 24, 2003

Fri 14- Peace Commissioner: UN " too complicated" to understand paramilitary demobilisation.

· Colombian Peace-Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo announces that the government will not go to the UN Assembly to present the demobilisation programme of the paramilitaries, rejecting the possibility of international observation and monitoring for the process. He said that the government fears loss of "autonomy" within the "complexity " of the UN system, adding that by having international monitoring of the process the government will lose control of the process, El Tiempo reports.

· The Permanent Committee for Human Rights (CPDH) is seriously concerned for the safety of the members of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community in Antioquia department, following recent death threats made by Paramilitary forces. Several settlers of the community have been retained by these armed groups in roadblocks last week, and reported that the paramilitaries have threatened to continue in their attacks.

· Reporting a new assassination in the city of Santa Marta, Domingo Tovar from the Colombian Union Workers Federation (CUT) denounces, "the extermination campaign carried out by the enemies of the trade union movement in Colombia". 63 trade Unionists have been assassinated this year in Colombia, Colombia Solidarity Campaign (CSC) reports.

· According to The Economist, the ex-Defence Minister Marta Lucia Ramírez obliged the Colombian army to make administrative reforms and to prise control over contracts from the grip of General Mora and outsource the army's rations. These reform efforts were fought by "a reactionary faction" led by General Mora, according to a senior defence official. The general, who also retired this week, succeeded in taking down the minister first.

Sat 15 – One dead and dozens injured in Bogota's night blasts; health workers occupy Ministry.

· Two grenades are tossed into two Bogotá bars popular among U.S. soldiers, embassy officials and journalists, as well as wealthy Colombians, killing one woman and injuring 72 others. At least three American citizens were among the victims, El Tiempo reports.

· 138 workers of the Colombian health system engage in a peaceful occupation of the offices of the Ministry for Social Protection in Bogota. The Colombian health workers union (ANTHOC) reports that 11 members of the occupying group have declared themselves on hunger strike. Minister of Health Diego Palacios has systematically denied any talks with leaders of the Union until they finish the occupation.

· El Tiempo reports that under the leadership of Marta Lucia Ramirez the Colombian Ministry of Defence saved 60 thousand million pesos (US $ 21.5m), mostly because of the centralisation of the commercial contracts. The Inspector General's Office (Procurador) and the Auditor General's office (Contralor) have defended the measure.


Sun 16 – UN condemns Bogota attack; commission highlights humanitarian crisis in Atrato.

· The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' office in Bogota condemns the terrorist's attacks in the Zona Rosa (up-town area) of Bogota on Saturday night. In a statement, the Office says that these acts are always unjustified and un-acceptable. The authorities blame a FARC member for the attack.

· Some 300 Colombians, international diplomats and aid officials board a flotilla of 20 boats and motor 500 kilometres along the Atrato River from Quibdo (Choco) to Turbo (Antioquia), in a week-long bid to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in this war-affected region of western Colombia. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) sponsors the event, organised by the Catholic Church with local indigenous and Afro-Colombian organisations, which operates two field offices in the area.

· Amnesty International (AI) researcher for Colombia, Peter Drury reports that the "Security Zones programme carried out by the municipality of Medellin has been infiltrated by paramilitary groups". Under this scheme, some urban areas of this city like the Comuna 13 had been put under the control of private security companies. According to Drury, there is no control by the authorities in the recruitment of these groups nor any monitoring of what they do by the authorities, El Tiempo reports.

· After a Security meeting in Barranquilla, President Uribe says that troops will continue the military operations in search of the foreign tourists kidnapped by the ELN group in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

· US government notifies that formal negotiations to implement the Free Trade Agreement with the countries of the Andean region are about to start. Colombian ex-Finance Minister Juan Manuel Santos says that there are many difficult points to be discussed by Colombia, and that the final result will define development for the next 50 years, El Espectador reports.


Mon 17 – Dramatic increase in military expenditure; Uribe names close friends as ministers.

· The Director of Colombia's Planning Department, Santiago Montenegro reports that from January to October this year the government spent 3,65 billion pesos (US $ 1,319 m) in Defence, mostly through the reinforcement of the armed forces.

· Cambio magazine reports that despite the lack of political experience of the new Defence Minister, Jorge Alberto Uribe Echavarría, he is part of a select group of people, most of which are businessmen from Antioquia and with whom President Uribe consults on a permanent basis. Others are Diego Calle Restrepo, Raul Fajardo, Hernan Echavarria Olozaga and Bernardo Angel Perez.

· Washington Times reports that the Colombian army Gen. Diaz -sacked in a scandal involving seized cocaine later sold back again to narcotraffickers-, was secretly recorded in conversations obtained by US agents. This has caused distrust between U.S. and Colombian officials and hindered cooperation in the war on drugs. Gen. Diaz said he feels betrayed by the DEA and Col. Graves, the defence attaché at the U.S. Embassy, after having several meetings with them between March 2002 and April 2003.


Tues 18 – US Embassy warns about more attacks; Castaño wants immunity "similar to the ICC".

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota warns Americans that weekend grenade attacks against two crowded pubs in the capital were apparently meant to target U.S. citizens. The statement also says that the Embassy believes that the threat against American citizens continues. The Americans wounded in the attacks included three U.S. State Department contractors and one American Airlines pilot, Reuters reports.

Commander of the paramilitaries Carlos Castaño asks the Colombian government to sign an agreement with the US authorities "similar to the one signed between both countries regarding the International Criminal Court" (ICC). Castaño wants the Uribe administration to guarantee immunity for those paramilitary commanders accused of crimes against humanity and narcotrafficking and with current extradition warrants against them from the US authorities, Vanguardia Liberal reports.

General Jorge Pineda Carvajal, Commander of Jungle Brigade 27 based out of Putumayo, has been asked to resign due to allegations of misuse of funds while he was Director of Intelligence of the Armed Forces back in 2001. Six Generals have resigned in the last week due to scandals involving the police and armed forces.

John McLaughlin, former Director of the Office of Aviation in the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs reports that security mismanagement by the US State Department has "seriously jeopardised" the U.S. airborne drug-eradication programme in cocaine- and heroin-rich Colombia, The Washington Times reports.


Weds 19 – 30 attacks in Putumayo's oil fields; Amnesty concerned about Ospina appointment.

Authorities report 30 attacks against oil installations in Putumayo, causing the spill of oil and the temporary closure of the Canada- owned Petrobank pipeline. President Uribe considers that there has been a failure by the armed forces to protect oil infrastructures, calling on the commanders to " capture the terrorists in Putumayo", CNE reports.

Director of Amnesty International in USA, William F. Schulz reports that Gen. Ospina's appointment as commander of the Colombian armed forces "is nothing short of outrageous", adding that "the general's appointment is also a slap in the face to the U.S., which has repeatedly reminded the Colombian government that U.S. security assistance is conditioned on its meeting specific human rights criteria".

The Peasants Association of the Cimitarra Valley (ACVC) reports the detention and later disappearance of Ramiro Florido Gutierrez in the city of Barrancabermeja (Santander). He was reportedly abducted by paramilitaries who control some areas of this city, Vanguardia Liberal reports.

Reporting on the consequences of the failure of the referendum in Colombia, Alvaro Vargas Llosa from the US based Independent Institute reports that Colombia is one of the few countries that preserved its democracy during the decades of dictatorship in Latin America, and it is famous for its jurists. Despite that, the authoritarian elements that are starting to show in the war in Colombia, (including a failed attempt to redraw the Constitution and pave the way for the President's re-election) have scared ordinary Colombians into speaking out in defence of their civil liberties by rejecting the government proposal.


Thurs 20 –Uribe stands up for Commander Ospina; Constitutional reform fails in Congress.

President Uribe Velez defends the human rights record of appointed commander of armed forces, Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina, describing him as "a soldier of integrity for 38 years". Ospina's troops were implicated in a particularly grisly massacre by paramilitary units in the province of Antioquia in 1997, Reuters reports.

A Constitutional reform presented by the government to the Colombian Congress that included 9 of the key points of the Referendum has been rejected. After two days of deliberations, only 44 Congressmen voted in favour of the initiative. El Tiempo reports that this is the first big setback for newly appointed Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) reports that they will soon free Spanish and German backpackers kidnapped in September. The statement made no mention of four Israelis and an Englishman they are also holding. In a news release, the Colombian Catholic Church said that a humanitarian commission made up of churchmen, U.N. representatives and Colombian human rights officials would travel to the Sierra Nevada next weekend, El Espectador reports.

Ecuadorian soldiers destroy a Colombian rebel base in the dense jungle on the border between the two nations. FARC reportedly used the camp to rest and hide hostages. An army patrol found the base after a Colombian hostage escaped from the FARC by jumping off a boat while crossing the San Miguel River between the two countries, Ecuadorian authorities report.

Robin Kirk from Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that "Ospina's appointment demonstrates that Colombia's civilian leaders are not serious about cleaning up the human rights abusers still in positions of command but instead, they reward them with promotions", AP reports.

The World Bank announces it has approved a loan of US $150 m to reinforce the Uribe government's strategy to reform the public sector in Colombia, CNE reports.


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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