Colombia This Week -- October 4, 2004


Fri 24 – US certifies Colombia on human rights; OAS mission: AUC still violating cease-fire.

· The US state department gives Colombia $33 million in military aid to fight armed groups in reward for what it describes as the South American nation's progress on human rights. The certification contrasts with human rights groups' criticism that Colombia has not done enough to break links between parts of the armed forces and paramilitary groups despite a purge this year of the military ranks. The aid will help the armed forces fight guerrillas, the paramilitaries and drug-traffickers. "While there has been progress, more needs to be done to improve the human rights situation in Colombia," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said in a statement. "President Uribe is committed to working with us on concrete measures the government of Colombia should take to achieve these objectives", Reuters reports.

· The chief of the Organisation for American States (OAS) mission in Colombia, Sergio Caramagna reports that eight months after the process started, the main paramilitary groups are violating the cease-fire despite previous commitments. He also said that the demobilisation of the Cacique Nutibara Bloc in Medellin has not been consistent and that the communities in Medellin are still suffering from paramilitary pressure, adding that for the OAS it is ‘very difficult' because the OAS mission have no powers to prevent this, El Tiempo reports.

· Another ‘friendly fire' attack kills one army soldier and injures three others near the municipality of Segovia (Antioquia). According to the army, two patrols were looking for a rebel column in the area when shooting started under bad weather conditions, El Tiempo reports.

· While visiting Bogota, Spanish Defence Minister Jose Bono reports after scuttling a sale of tanks to Colombia that the new Spanish government will send two medical evacuation planes and sanitary equipment, presenting a fresh approach to cooperation between both countries, El Pais reports.

· US secret services with the cooperation of the Colombian police raid different locations in Medellin, Bogota, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga. The raids produced 29 arrests and the confiscation of printed counterfeit bills valuing $5 b pesos, US $200,000, and $80 million Bolivian bolivares, as well as two kilos of cocaine, 33 printing plates, and 19 film negatives from which the counterfeit bills were produced.


Sat 25 – Embera communities blockaded; Government pays 1,900 m to 161 army informants.

· The Colombian indigenous organisation (ONIC) reports that combat between FARC and the Colombian army has blockaded and isolated the Embera Katio indigenous communities in the Alto Sinu area (Monteria). They repeat their call to all armed groups to respect the autonomy of the indigenous communities and their legitimate right to stay outside the armed conflict, El Tiempo reports.

Defence Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe reports the payment of 1,900 m pesos (US $ 748,474) to 161 people demobilised from armed groups. According to the minister these people have provided important information during armed operatives across the country, SNE reports.

Liberal Party stalwart and ex-presidential Liberal candidate Horacio Serpa says in an interview in El Tiempo that he would support the recently established centre-left coalition against President Uribe Velez's re-election.

Intelligence reports indicate representatives for the FARC have been sending representatives to other Latin American countries in an effort to round up support for their four-decade insurgency, director of the Colombian secret police (DAS) Jorge Humberto Noguera reports. The FARC "has been in Argentina, Chile and some Central American countries,'' he said. With some 16,000-armed fighters, the FARC is the largest and oldest guerrilla group in the Western Hemisphere, World News reports.

The US Senate approves aid for demobilising illegal Colombian combatants providing that it does not conflict with extradition treaties, according to El Colombiano.

With the city's violence obviously out of control, Defence Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe sacks Cali police chief Gen. Mario Gutierrez Jimenez, EL Pais reports.


Sun 26 – Army kills 13 paramilitaries from ACC faction; health crisis deepens with more closures.

· Colombian forces reportedly kill 13 paramilitaries in the northeastern province of Casanare. Those killed - members of the Peasant Self-Defence Forces of Casanare (ACC) -- were not involved in the peace talks. The Colombian army also reports that recent combat has reduced this group to 150 fighters, El Espectador reports.

Responding to a nationwide hospital financial crisis, workers at several facilities have organised protests in September in the cities of Barranquilla and Cali. Employees of University Hospital in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla launched a strike saying a lack of basic supplies made it impossible to care for patients. Workers blame the Uribe administration. "We have hospitals closing down, a neoliberal government and an inefficient health care system on the brink of total privatisation," National Health and Social Security Union (Sindess) leader Enrique Cadena Rojas said, reported in El Tiempo

 In an interview in El Tiempo, coordinator for international relations for the Chilean Communist party, Jorge Insunza admits that this party and most of the democratic parties in Chile had met with members of the FARC, reporting that this armed group ‘is not a terrorist group' and that they are seeking a peace proposal.


Mon 27 - Tapes on Colombian killings Leaked; NGOs criticise US commitment on Colombia.

Taped conversations between Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo and leaders of Colombia's paramilitary groups have been broadcast by local media. Luis Carlos Restrepo said he and his team had heard complaints by residents that murders were being committed in the safe haven in Santa Fe de Ralito. "Homicides are being committed that compromise those who are inside the zone. It is a matter which we have handled very carefully to avoid a public scandal which would harm us," Restrepo told the paramilitary commanders, according to a transcript published in Semana. Word about killings by paramilitary gunmen in the zone could drive public opinion against the talks, as occurred previously in peace talks with FARC.

US-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) criticise the move of the US State department certifying the Colombian Army on human rights. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) questioned the commitment of the Bush administration to ensuring real human rights progress in Colombia saying, "this certification amounts to a false stamp of approval for a government that has failed to make the protection and promotion of human rights a priority." This is the first of two evaluations necessary for Colombia to receive the entirety of more than $250 million in military aid from the United States; the recent approval covers 12.5 percent of the total.


Tues 28 –Colombian Court allows extradition of paramilitary negotiator; mines kill 512 this year.

The Colombian Supreme Court authorises the extradition of paramilitary commander Juan Carlos Sierra. After the ruling, President Uribe signed an extradition order for Sierra, who until now had participated in peace talks between the government and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The government has accused Sierra of being a cocaine trafficker masquerading as a leader of the far-right group. The order came as the government reacted angrily to the leaking of audio tapes made secretly by the paramilitaries. The tapes revealed that a top paramilitary leader was boycotting negotiations, threatening the process, Reuters reports.

According to the data presented by the government-based Observatory for Landmines, in the last two weeks 19 civilians and 32 soldiers have been killed as a result of landmines across Colombia. According to the same data, 512 people have been killed so far this year, 150 of whom were civilians and 352 soldiers. The report says that another 10 people were killed but have not been identified, El Tiempo reports.

As the consequences of the transport strike affects key economic sectors, Colombian truckers agree to converge and block urban roadways on the strike's 16th day.

Eleven former Nicaraguan soldiers and guerrillas are arrested in Colombia for trying to supply the FARC group with arms in exchange for drugs. ‘We broke up a group of arms traffickers, made up of ex-soldiers and guerrillas from Nicaragua, that was dealing with illegal groups, particularly the FARC, with this exchange of drugs for arms', National Police Chief Jorge Daniel Castro told local television.

As pressure mounts for results in the paramilitary peace process, President Uribe Velez promises a timeline toward ‘total demobilisation' of paramilitaries by December 2005, El Tiempo reports.


Weds 29 – Uribe plays security for money in US speech; paramilitary chief ready to demobilise

Midway through his term in office, President Uribe says that his country still has some pressing internal challenges but that it has made great strides, particularly with the economy. During remarks to reporters at a trade forum in Miami, the President proudly cited an 18.6 percent increase in exports as a hallmark of Colombia's growth. The trade conference, titled Proexport Colombia, brought together more than 600 Colombian business ventures and 250 potential American investors at the Hotel Inter Continental, AP reports.

Renegade paramilitary chief ‘Martin Llanos' says he will negotiate a demobilisation as soon as the government sets up a safe haven, El Tiempo reports.

With an eye on foreign aid and investment, President Uribe Velez promotes his economic and security record before the UN General Assembly in New York, Reuters reports.

Angelino Garzon, mayor of the southwestern city of Cali, loses a second bodyguard this month to killers, within two weeks of the killing of another of his men. Although police suggest that the murder was due to economic motives, Garzon considers the killing to be too much of a coincidence, El Pais reports.


Thurs 30 – Rebellion in Congress threatens government; US re-directs environmental aid.

A group of Colombian Congressmen generally supportive of the government of President Uribe reports a rebellion against the government because of the different treatment received from the President. An important bill presented by the government to secure foreign investment in Colombia has been rejected as a result. The rebellion could affect the bill that allows presidential re-election in its eighth and last vote, El Nuevo Siglo reports.

A bill passed by the US Senate redirects US $4.5 million in aid from the government-controlled Colombian National Parks to the environmental NGOs working in Colombian parks. This policy turn-around is in reaction to the removal of former Director of National Parks Juan Carlos Riascos, who was dismissed by the Uribe administration in January 2004 after he tried to limit the effects of the fumigation campaigns in the national parks, El Tiempo reports.

A strike by more than 100,000 truck drivers has paralysed coffee exports, hiked food prices in some regions and filled warehouses of Atlantic and Pacific ports. The Colombian Truckers Association launched the strike September 14 to press demands on fuel prices, tolls, weight limits and US trade talks. Despite the calls made by President Uribe, the strikers report they will continue blocking the Colombian roads, AP reports.

President Uribe calls on the Colombian central bank to weaken the peso further after the currency fell to a six-week low against the dollar this week. `The central bank is doing a very good job and I hope in the near future the job will be even better,' Uribe said at an investors' conference in New York. `We need to guarantee a stable but competitive exchange rate'. Twenty-one business groups, most of them exporters, last month called on the government to take steps to stem the peso's gain to help boost export revenue, Bloomberg 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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