Colombia This Week - October 27, 2003

Fri 17 – ASFADDES asks President Uribe to dismiss its security chief, Col. Santoyo.

· The Association of Relatives of Detained-Disappeared Persons (ASFADDES ) urges President Uribe Vélez to remove from post its security chief, Colonel Mauricio Santoyo. The Inspector General's office sanctioned Santoyo and 9 other police officers following a human rights investigation. The investigation revealed that some 1,808 NGOs and social organisations were illegally taped and two members of ASFADDES, Angel Quintero and Claudia Monsalve, were forcibly disappeared in Medellin in October 2001.

· Paramilitary members of the Bloque Central Bolívar, (AUC) shot and killed Esperanza Amaris Miranda, a women's rights activist, in Barrancabermeja. The attackers forced Esperanza, local head of the Popular Feminist Organization (OFP) out of her home and shot her shortly afterwards, said Yolanda Becerra, OFP's spokeswoman. "They killed her because she was outspoken and would not keep quiet, they killed her because she was a political leader", Reuters reports.

· President Uribe Velez's approval rating has risen to a 75 percent but his popularity might not be enough to win approval of his cost-cutting referendum next week. A Gallup poll also shows that 23 percent of registered voters plan to participate in the 15-question referendum on Oct. 25, which would freeze most public salaries for two years, cap high pensions, and cut the size of Congress. Uribe needs at least 25 percent of the electorate -6 million voters- to participate in the referendum for it to be valid. Opposition parties and unions say the referendum's proposals would hurt the poor and grant the government too much power. They are urging voters to boycott the referendum, Reuters reports.

· Caracol radio reports that un-known gunmen shot and killed Carlos Eduardo Caicedo, social leader and ex-mayoral candidate in the city of Cucuta, (Norte de Santander). Two relatives were also injured in the attack.


Sat 18 - Colombia elections dogged by violence; Venezuela accuses Minister of damaging ties.

· A deluge of death threats, killings and kidnappings has dogged campaigns for the Oct. 25 municipal and state elections throughout Colombia. Authorities report that FARC have threatened to kill every contender who refuses to either strike a deal with them or quit. But if politicians do seek an accord, or even show sympathy toward the rebels, they risk being killed by paramilitary death squads. At least 30 candidates have been assassinated and a dozen kidnapped, according to the Defence Ministry. One in every five has received a death threat. So far, 181 candidates have withdrawn, El Espectador reports.

· In a statement released in Caracas, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton calls Colombia's Defence Minister a ''thorn in the side'' of bilateral relations. He was responding to remarks by Marta Lucia Ramirez in New York –Friday- in which she said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government was not doing enough to stop Colombian guerrillas from operating from the Venezuelan side of the frontier, Reuters reports.

· President Uribe told local radio that 2,500 illegal fighters had surrendered so far this year under a government desertion programme, CNE reports.

· Colombian Senator Antonio Navarro Wolf reports that President Uribe "is trying to salvage an ill-conceived and incomprehensible referendum by converting it into a plebiscite on his approval". "The reforms would concentrate more power in the executive and the savings would be diverted into boosting defence spending", El Espectador reports.


Sun 19 - 44 paramilitaries surrender to the authorities; poll suggests low turn out in referendum.

· 44 paramilitary gunmen surrender to the authorities In Bahia Solano, (Chocó), El Colombiano reports.

· Political analysts estimate that the text of the referendum takes an average 22 minutes to read, as it is composed of a long list of highly technical and legalistically phrased questions. El Tiempo reports that this is a major test for President Uribe Velez's "democratic security" strategy.

· Former finance minister Juan Camilo Restrepo, says in an interview "if the relevant articles in the referendum are not approved, it will not lead to the kind of catastrophe that the government is predicting"." The government has already drafted additional tax reforms, and if the referendum fails to win public approval, Mr Uribe could be forced to decree unpopular austerity measures, such as a freeze on public sector wages, Semana reports.


Mon 20 – Police deployed to oversee elections; ELN offers to free Basque hostage.

· Director of Police, Gen. Teodoro Campo, reports that the government has sent police to most of the urban centres and will deploy more than 200,000 around the country to watch over the polls this weekend. Washington Post reports.

· A spokesman for the National Liberation Army, (ELN), says the group would free Basque hostage Asier Huegun in a few days. The group then insisted on handing him over to a committee that included a group of politicians from the regional Basque government, El Pais reports.

· Police in Bogota report the capture of four FARC members for detonating a car bomb that killed six people in a shopping area of Bogota. The report says that the attack was retaliation against shop owners. Rebels and their paramilitary foes have for months been attempting to extort money from shop owners in San Andresito, according to Bogota's Mayor, Antanas Mockus.

· A group of human rights observers and members of the catholic church led by Cauca Governor Floro Tunubalá reports that the army has turned down their request to visit the municipality of Santa Rosa, adding that earlier this year the army refused to admit it was bombing the municipality until photographs finally proved it. According to a U.N. official in Popayán, the Attorney General's office has prepared a list of 120 Santa Rosa residents to be arrested.


Tues 21 – 25 politicians arrested over 'links to rebels' in Arauca; troops kill 11 FARC members.

Colombian authorities arrest 29 local politicians in Arauca, including the mayor of the provincial capital, on suspicion that they have links to leftist rebels. An army spokesman said: 'Intelligence reports have indicated links with subversives, which have to be cleared up'. Candidates in a municipal and provincial election set for Sunday were among those arrested in the oil-rich province on the border with Venezuela, Reuters reports.

Colombian troops kill 11 FARC members in an ambush near San Vicente del Caguan, (Caqueta). According to the army, among them is Edgar Gustavo Navarro, nicknamed "Stump," the FARC commander behind the kidnapping of three US military contractors. The US is offering a reward of up to $5m (£3m) for those involved in the kidnapping, The Guardian reports.

In another massive detention sweep, authorities report that 97 suspected guerrillas have been arrested in the eastern jungle region of Vichada, El Tiempo reports.

While on a visit to Washington, the commander of Colombia's armed forces, Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora, dismisses a recent taped interview in which three US military contractors captives said they didn't want the army to launch a rescue operation because they would likely die in the process. "It must be kept in mind that the hostages were speaking under pressure." AP reports.

The family of a kidnapped Basque backpacker set to be freed by the ELN in a ''solidarity'' gesture said ''we beg that political conditions should not be attached to his release and that no one tries to use the situation to establish a political debate that has nothing to do with our intentions,'' Reuters report.

The Financial Times reports that President Uribe is pulling out all the stops as he battles to win support for a referendum vote that could mark a decisive moment in his presidency. "A Yes vote at the weekend would give his government a free hand to cut public spending, attack corruption and streamline the country's political apparatus. A No vote, he warns, will leave the government hamstrung as it seeks to rein in a fiscal deficit and rising burden of debt. Mr Uribe believes that it would also undermine plans to tackle the country's guerrilla insurgency more effectively".

Colombian Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio acknowledges that the timing of the arrests of politicians in Arauca, only five days before state and mayoral elections, was "uncomfortable". "A very complex situation has arisen in Arauca, where ... people within the (political) movements are committing crimes,'' he tells local radio. Among those detained is Arauca 's Mayor Jorge Cedeño, who was taken to a nearby base of the army's 18th Brigade, El Espectador reports.


Weds 22 - Car bomb attacks in Bogota and Medellin; ELN postpone the release of hostages.

A bomb attached to a motorcycle explodes outside the Attorney General's Office in Itagui, (Medellíin). Authorities report that 11 people were injured, one of them seriously, El Colombiano reports.

The ELN say they had indefinitely postponed the release of Asier Huegun, the backpacker they kidnapped last month because of ''intransigence'' by President Uribe Velez, Reuters reports.

A car bomb blast ripped through a commercial district of Colombia's capital Bogota, injuring three people, including a 62-year-old woman who caught shrapnel in her leg, police said. The attack is the third to strike the Andean mountain city this month, in what police believe to be part an urban offensive by FARC group, El Espectador reports.

The Colombian Commission of Jurists reports that among the 29 politicians detained in Arauca are candidates, functionaries and community leaders standing in next weekend's elections, adding that the government is going too far with these measures.


Thurs 23 – Government asked: "stop the justice-show"; UN: indigenous leaders killed by AUC.

Gilberto Toro, head of the Colombian Federation of Municipalities urges the Government and the Attorney General's Office "to stop the Justice-show in Colombia", referring to the detention of Mayor of Arauca, Jorge Ceduño. He also asks the government to protect candidates, reporting that at least six towns have no candidates for their mayoral offices or town councils and many candidates complain they have not been provided with the bullet-proof vests and bodyguards available to elected officials.

The UN Human Rights Office in Colombia condemns the killing of Indigenous Kankuamanos people in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. According to the office the paramilitary group United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia AUC) killed three indigenous leaders, including the Mamo (religious authority) Gutierrez from the community of Mojao. Armed groups have killed 50 people from the minority Kankuama this year.

State Department officials report that pilots of the spray planes sent on a fatal mission to fumigate coca crops in Colombia were unaware of intelligence showing a heavy guerrilla presence in the targeted area, an internal U.S. government investigation found. A U.S. spray plane was shot down and its pilot was killed on Sept. 21.

A report in El Tiempo says that in the regions controlled by paramilitaries, candidates favoured by these militias are sometimes running unchallenged, posing a big threat to Colombia's fragile democracy. In the race for the governors' seats in the northern states of Magdalena and Cesar -where the paramilitary forces are strong - only one candidate is running in each state. Other politicians there said they did not run because they feared retaliation by this armed group.


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.