Colombia This Week -- November 22, 2004

Fri 12 -125,000 Colombians detained in 6 months; PDI to run own Presidential candidate.

· According to a report released by the Inspector General's Office, at least 125,000 people have been detained in Colombia in the first semester of 2004. According to the report, with this increase in the number of detainees the Colombian jails are overcrowded by up to 38.5%, presenting a security problem for the whole country. According to the report, the total number of prisoners may be as high as 73,000, including those in local and regional jails and the people detained in Police stations, military barracks, the Attorney General's Office and DAS stations, El Tiempo reports.

· The left-leaning party Independent Democratic Pole (PDI) decides to run its own presidential candidate in 2006. The decision was taken by the majority of the 200-strong Assembly that gathered in Bogota for two days. The PDI is the newest Colombian political party and in the last regional elections they obtained strong public support in the cities of Bogota and other important departments, El Tiempo reports.

· U.S. President George W. Bush plans to visit the city of Cartagena on 22 November, El Pais reports.

· Students from the main five Colombian universities are mounting militant protests against budget cuts, as the government is preparing to reduce the budget for higher education, El Espectador reports.

· 13 Colombian Senators and 14 Congressmen travelled to Santa Fe de Ralito, responding to the call made by Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo to visit the paramilitary commanders located in the area. No information has been published regarding the topics discussed, El Nuevo Siglo reports.


Sat 13-Condemnation for killing of Indigenous leaders; Supreme Court absolves Castaño in case.

· Following the recent assassination of the indigenous leader Mariano Suarez Chaparro in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and further killings of at least 18 indigenous Colombians in 2004, Sweden-based NGO CIVIS calls for the protection of Colombia's indigenous communities from oppression by the different armed groups, and for the International Community's support to protect the indigenous communities' cultural heritage and their right to remain in their natural territories.

· Prompting cries of 'impunity,' the Colombian Supreme Court absolves paramilitary chief Carlos Castaño of the 1994 murder of Senator Manuel Cepeda Vargas. Reports in El Tiempo says that the tribunal is adding to the impunity rates of the Colombian Justice system as Carlos Castaño has publicly acknowledged on two different occasions that he commanded the operation that killed the Senator. The Manuel Cepeda Foundation and the Lawyers Collective Jose Alvear Restrepo reject the ruling, stating that they will continue the search for justice in this case.

· Entitled 'Censorship by fire' (La Censura del fuego), a new book has been published in Colombia, investigating the unresolved killings of Colombian journalists. Among other cases, the book describes the investigation conducted into Jaime Garzon's killing in which eight key witnesses of the killing were later killed. The work also details more than 80 journalists killed in Colombia in the last twenty years.


Sun 14 - FARC kill state attorney at roadblock; police officer accused of killing Ombudsman.

· Suspected FARC rebels gun down a state attorney in southern Colombia who had been prosecuting captured guerrilla commanders, police report. Mario Canal was travelling in a taxi along a highway near the city of Popayan when a group of gunmen stopped the car and shot him six times, said regional police chief Col. Pablo Gomez. Preliminary evidence indicated that a FARC militia was behind the attack, Gomez said, AP reports.

· The Inspector General's office fires police officer Jhonny Mauricio Muñoz Osorio for allegedly participating in the 2001 paramilitary assassination of Ivan Villamizar Luciani, the Norte de Santander Province human rights ombudsperson, El Colombiano reports.

· In the largest paramilitary demobilisation to date, 1,400 fighters led by Salvatore Mancuso Gomez are to gather in the northern village of Campo Dos and disarm by 15 December. While visiting the area, Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo reports that the government is negotiating with the peasants in the area, asking them to give up their own land in tenancy to the demobilised troops, El Tiempo reports.


Mon 15- Killings of Union Patriotica increased in 2004; terrified families flee Catatumbo area.

· According to a report issued by the Colombian NGO REINICIAR, between February and September 2004, 136 human rights violations were committed in Colombia against members of the leftist political party Union Patriotica. Reiniciar also reports that 21 of the surviving members were killed and dozens more were threatened and forcibly displaced, El Pais reports.

· Dozens of families have fled their homes in the northern hamlet of La Gabarra in Catatumbo, anticipating attacks after a planned paramilitary demobilisation takes place in the area next month. According to the reports, the inhabitants are asking for the presence of human rights NGOs in the area and the permanent presence of the army, El Pais reports.

· Armed groups have provided very different figures after the combats that took place in the indigenous territories in the rural area of Toribio (Cauca). According to the Colombian army two soldiers were killed and five injured during the attack. The FARC group reported that 30 soldiers were killed when an assault group of rebels took over the army dormitories in Chimicueto-Tacueyo, El Pais reports.


Tues 16 - Protest at violence against indigenous leaders; arms factory discovered.

· As violence against indigenous groups is on the rise, the Colombian media implores the armed groups to respect the leaders of the indigenous communities across Colombia. According to El Espectador, the draft of a new report by the UN special rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people harshly criticised the Colombian state and ''has not ruled out that what is happening to indigenous peoples in our country is genocide." Half of the more than 80 indigenous tribes in Colombia face extinction if forced conscription by guerrillas, targeted assassinations, and food blockades continue, according to the Latin American Association for Human Rights. ''The state has allowed this to take place," said Leonor Zalabata, an Arhuaco human rights leader. ''There is a history of racial discrimination and social exclusion" that has made protecting Indigenous a low priority, she believes, despite repeated rulings from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights urging the government to take action, Boston Globe reports.

· Authorities report the discovery of an arms factory in Antioquia belonging to paramilitaries, reportedly from the Central Bolivar Bloc, where they produced mortars and other explosives, El Tiempo reports.

· Colombian Trade Minister Jorge Humberto Botero reports that Colombia's peso, which has gained 9.6 percent against the dollar this year, will fall `relatively soon' as U.S. interest rates rise: 'I am convinced the phenomenon of revaluation will have to give ground relatively soon'. The US cannot let the dollar keep devaluing indefinitely, Botero said in an interview at his office in Bogota', Bloomberg reports.

· A panel of legislators plans to present President Uribe Velez with a bill that would provide prison sentences of up to 10 years for any members of armed groups found guilty of atrocities and require them to return any ill-gotten gains. The proposed penalties would form part of the government's conditions for a peace agreement with the United Self-Defence Forces (AUC). Though illegal, the paramilitaries consider themselves allied with the state, using selective assassinations and mass killings to undermine the rebel forces, New York Times reports.


Weds 17 - ELN kill nine police officers in Choco; UNHCR: Colombian refugees on the increase.

· ELN members ambush a police convoy near the town of Itsmina (Choco), killing at least nine officers and wounding three others, authorities report. A 10th policeman was killed in a separate incident. The police were responding to a call, allegedly from villagers claiming to have spotted a group of suspicious armed men near Paimado. The rebels attacked with automatic weapons, a National Police spokesman said. As many as 100 rebels from the National Liberation Army were believed to be involved, the spokesman said, AP reports.

· The number of Colombians seeking refuge in foreign countries is on the increase, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Luud Lubbers, during the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration of Refugees, (an official Declaration adopted in 1984 by governmental experts and jurists from Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela), El Espectador reports.

· In fighting between the Colombian Army and the FARC group, a policeman (in civilian clothes) and two rebels are killed and six soldiers injured in a road block close to the city of Ibague (Tolima), El Tiempo reports.

· The Elmer Cardenas Bloc, a 3000-strong paramilitary group acting in northwest Colombia, near the border with Panama, and not participating in the peace talks with the government, vows to keep out of areas vacated by 'would-be' disarmed fronts from the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) that are participating in peace talks and that have a presence in the Uraba region, Reuters reports.

· The Inspector General's Office announces the suspension of Coronel Orlando Pulido Rojas, commander of the army's Batallon Manosalva, based in Quibdo (Choco) for omission to prevent the massacre carried out in Bojaya in 2002 by the FARC group. 118 people were killed during fighting between FARC and paramilitaries in civilian areas, El Tiempo reports.


Thurs 18- 14,000 children in Colombian armed groups; Colombia's role in Plan Puebla-Panama

· UK-based NGOs Save the Children and Amnesty International report that more than 14,000 child soldiers are fighting in the Colombian conflict, denouncing that the illegal armed groups (FARC, ELN and AUC) are systemically recruiting children under 15 years old from indigenous and rural communities, putting their lives at extreme risk and sending them to the front line of battle. The report also denounces the US, the European Union, the G8 countries and the UN Security Council for not doing enough to stop these practices. 300,000 child soldiers are fighting in 20 internal conflicts around the world.

· A summit in Costa Rica this weekend between President Uribe and Guatemalan counterpart Oscar Berger will likely formalise Colombia's role in the controversial development plan called Plan Puebla-Panama, AP reports.

· Colombian NGO SEMBRAR reports that paramilitaries from the Central Bolivar Bloc are threatening, abusing, robbing and forcing the members of the mining communities in Santa Rosa (Bolivar) to attend meetings and to collaborate with this group. They also denounce that during a humanitarian delegation in the area, Fernando Ibarra, a delegate from the Colombian Vice-presidency, said to the communities that they should collaborate with the paramilitary process and demand that the guerrilla groups respect this process.

· Hernando Buitrago, a suspected guerrilla leader who escaped from prison two weeks ago, turns himself in, drawing applause from Colombia's President who promised him two free nights in a luxury hotel. Hernando Buitrago, who is accused of murder and kidnapping, explained he escaped because he was unable to resist when an opportunity suddenly presented itself. "Any prisoner given the chance to escape will take it," he told reporters outside the Interior Ministry after turning himself in, adding that he has now decided to renounce his affiliation with the FARC, El Tiempo 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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