Colombia This Week -- October 20, 2003

Fri 10 - U.S. NGOs express support for the Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace.

· On the occasion of the fourth national plenary of the Colombian Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace, leading U.S.-based NGOs issued a statement in support of the Assembly and its efforts to promote peace and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. In addition the organisations called on the Colombian government to protect all civilians and to pursue a negotiated settlement to the conflict and urged guerrillas and paramilitaries to commit to a cease-fire and demobilisation.

· In a statement on their website FARC urge Colombians to boycott upcoming elections, saying the nation's electoral system is a farce. The campaign for state and mayoral elections on Oct. 26 has been steeped in violence, with 22 candidates killed and eight others kidnapped. FARC has been blamed for most of the attacks. The National Liberation Army, a smaller rebel group, pledged last month to a ceasefire during the elections.

· A European delegation of mayors visits the south-east of Antioquia. Wim Deetman, mayor of The Hague, (Holland), Jacques Laurent, mayor of Eygalayes (France), Margareta Olofsson, mayor of Estocolm (Sweden), Jan van Putten, mayor of Putten (Holland), Herbert Schmalstieg, mayor of Hannover (Germany) report in a press conference that the international community must support these peace initiatives to find a peaceful solution to the Colombian armed conflict.


Sat 11 - UN Education envoy condemns use of child informants; 2 mayoral candidates killed.

· After paying a 10-day visit to Bogota and Quibdo (Choco), the UN Education envoy, Katarina Tomasevski denounced the use of children as informants by combatants in the country's armed conflict. Speaking at a press conference, Tomasevski objected to the fact that children are encouraged to provide information about their teachers and other students' families to paramilitary groups and the police, stating that, "children have the right to be protected from being used as combatants." Colombian Education Minister Cecilia Velez confirmed the UN envoy's report, but noted that all parties in the conflict use children, including the guerrillas.

· Spokesman for the Quindio region police reports that officers found the bodies of Jairo Gomez, a mayoral candidate in the city of Genova, and Julio Cesar Castellanos, who was also running for the city council. The two went missing after a campaign visit in a rural area outside Genova. Police blame FARC for the attack.

· According to the Venezuelan news agency ANPA, three Colombian refugees have been killed in Rio de Oro (Catatumbo) after Colombian paramilitary forces crossed into Venezuelan territory. The report also says that this is happening while the Colombian army is carrying out the "Operacion Holocausto" in the area.


Sun 12 - Auditor's office criticizes supervision of Plan Colombia; Uribe urges Colombians to vote.

· A report from the Colombian Auditor's office (Contraloria) criticises the Ministry of Defence for not supervising the expenditure of Colombian armed forces. The report suggests lack of accountability in the use of Plan Colombia's resources, adding that "thousands of millions of pesos" have been spent without any supervision.

· While visiting Manizales, president Uribe Velez urges candidates "not to yield to violence and pull out of upcoming state and mayoral elections" as the number of assassinations and kidnappings of politicians mounts. ''Every Colombian democrat must close ranks to defend the constitution and our democratic rights,' and no candidate should be prepared to accept threats from armed groups", El Tiempo reports.

· According to the authorities a member of the ELN died in fighting with the army outside the town of Arauquita in Arauca, Vanguardia Liberal reports.

· Government troops kill three suspected FARC members near the town of Sacama, in Casanare. Authorities also report that two others where murdered outside Zupata in the central state of Cundinamarca.

· The World Association of Newspapers informs that seven reporters have been killed in Colombia on the job or because of their work so far this year. The Paris-based group, which represents 18,000 newspapers, said that Colombia remains "among the most dangerous places for journalists in the world." Washington Post reports.


Mon 13 – Colombian army kills 17 paramilitaries; forced disappearance of mayor by armed group.

· Government troops killed 17 paramilitary fighters of the United self-defence Forces of Colombia, (AUC), in a rural area outside the town of Orocue in Casanare. The AUC proposed to disarm its 13,000 troops by the end of 2005 as part of a unilateral ceasefire it announced just under a year ago. But despite the truce, paramilitaries are still fighting, Reuters reports.

· Authorities report that Jorge Emilio Suárez, mayoral candidate in the town of Yancuanquer, (Nariño) has gone missing. Analysts suggests that the spiralling of killings is an embarrassment to Uribe's administration, which came to power just over a year ago on pledges of crushing the leftist insurgency and restoring state authority to the nation's lawless provinces. FARC has been blamed for about half the assassinations and paramilitary fighters and common criminals are believed to be responsible for the rest.

· The US State Department reports that a special program run by the Pentagon and the U.S. Embassy in Colombia will reward up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in the murder of an American pilot and the kidnapping of three U.S. defence contractors in Colombia, AP reports.

· FARC commander and member of the Secretariat Iván Márquez says that the guerrilla organization does not ask for anything in return from Washington for the release of three US citizens held by the FARC.

· U.S. director of operations for U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Benjamin Dixon reports improvements in the performance of Colombian armed forces in combating drug trafficking and guerrilla activity in the last year. Gen. Mixon also predicted that the armed forces' pressure would force FARC to consider peace negotiations within the next 12 to 18 months, Miami Herald reports.

Tues 14 - FARC meets with Church representatives; Ecuadorian indigenous launch campaign.

· FARC members met with Catholic Church leaders to discuss a possible exchange of hostages for imprisoned guerrillas. This is the first meeting between the group and an official commission since peace talks collapsed in February 2002. Bishop from Tunja, Luis Augusto Castro, who took part in the discussions, reports, "they (the rebels) want to move forward to reach a humanitarian accord" for a prisoner exchange.

· Leader of the Ecuadorian indigenous movement Pachakutik, Miguel Lluco, reports on the concerns about Ecuador's involvement in Colombia's armed conflict. He also reports that the indigenous movement is launching a campaign in which they demand that the US government does not get involved, and the Colombian government commit to a political solution to the armed conflict.

· Colombia's police chief, Gen. Teodoro Campo reports that intelligence agents intercepted a radio transmission from Jorge Briceño, FARC's military chief, to his fighters ordering an intensification of the pressure on Colombian candidates. Police made the excerpts public after a wave of attacks in the run-up to State and mayoral elections on Oct. 26 that has left at least 25 candidates dead and forced dozens of others to flee.

· 19 members of the New South Wales Parliament in Australia write to the Colombian Ambassador in Canberra expressing their concern to the trial of the three Irish citizens who are accused of aiding FARC, AP reports.

· Two soldiers and four FARC rebels died near the town of Vista Hermosa (Meta) in fighting between the army and the FARC, El Espectador reports.

· Colombian columnist Daniel Samper writes in El Tiempo that as the Referendum and the election campaign draws to an end, the country is under the so call "Uribelatría". "President Uribe Velez has become an expert when it comes to showering himself in popularity" -he says-, adding that "this has been especially obvious in the past few months, since several congressmen proposed legislation that would allow the president to run for a second term".


Weds 15 – President of FEDEGAN escapes attack in Bogota; Car bomb explodes in Saravena.

· Jorge Visbal, president of Colombia's National Livestock Federation and ally of President Uribe Velez, escapes from an assassination attempt in the centre of Bogota. According to the police, the assailants fired a rocket-propelled grenade at his car, Reuters reports.

· A car bomb explodes near the town hall in Saravena, (Arauca). Five people were injured in the attack, El Espectador reports.

· According to a report released by Colombian NGO Pais Libre, Colombia's kidnapping industry is increasingly targeting younger victims. 383 children were abducted last year in the country, more than four times the number a decade ago.

· Colombian Inspector general (Procurador) Edgardo José Maya Villazón orders the suspension of payments of unemployment benefit until after local elections. According to an official statement, the payment of unemployment benefit, due to start for the first time just days before the elections, "can be seen as a political activity, specially in the regions ".

· Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla reports at Colombian Congress that more than 500.000 m pesos in taxes (US $ 178 m) have not been collected in Colombia this year. He also reports that the economic crisis is affecting the cash flow of many businesses across the country, El Espectador reports.


Thurs 16 – OFP member and human rights defender killed by paramilitaries in Barrancabermeja.

· The Popular Women's Organisation (OFP) in Barrancabermeja denounces and repudiates the assassination of Esperanza Amaris Miranda, human rights defender and member of this Colombian NGO. The report says that she was killed near her home after three armed paramilitaries forced her into a car. Esperanza had previously reported threats from the paramilitaries to the Regional Prosecutor.

· President Uribe Velez warns that Colombia could slide into an Argentine-style fiscal crisis if voters do not approve the cost-cutting referendum on Oct. 25. "I don't see much difference between what happened in Argentina and what could happen in Colombia with our (budget) deficit and our debt", he said, adding that "if the referendum is not approved, the panorama will be pretty difficult for our country, although the government will have to continue working, with enthusiasm, to find solutions," CNE reports.

· A truck packed with explosives detonates near a military checkpoint in Fortul, killing the driver and passenger and injuring four civilians in an attack the army blame on the FARC. According to the authorities it is not clear whether the explosives accidentally detonated or were triggered as the truck halted outside the town of Arauca.

· One-person dead and eight injured after two bombs explode in the center of Medellin, El Colombiano reports.

· In a public statement the national workers union from the inspector-general's office (Procuraduria) expresses support for Procurador Edgardo Maya Villazón. This week the office has been criticized by President Uribe Velez and some high rank military commanders after a report was published last week regarding the botched rescue attempt of former Culture Minister Consuelo Araujo by Colombian military forces.

· Commander of the paramilitaries Jesús Emiro Pereira Rivero is due to be freed next week after his case has been repeatedly postponed at the judicial process. According to the Lawyer's Collective Jose Alvear Restrepo, he has been accused for the killing of Colombia's Congressmen Octavio Sarmiento in Tame (Arauca) in October 2001 and is the most important paramilitary commander detained by authorities in Colombia.


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 the address below, indicating why you would be interested in receiving this summary.


ABColombia Group

PO Box 100

London SE1 7RT

Tel: +44-(0)20-7523-2374

Fax: +44-(0)20-7960-2706



ABColombia Members: CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam GB, Save the Children UK, SCIAF, Trocaire.


ABColombia Observers: Amnesty International and Peace Brigades International.