Colombia This Week -- September 8, 2003

Fri 29 - U.N. in Colombia critiques bill-granting amnesty to members of illegal armed groups.

· The Office in Colombia for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) issues a critique of a Colombian bill that would grant amnesties to illegal combatants, including those sentenced for crimes against humanity. The bill, which was introduced on August 21, would grant parole to jailed combatants who belong to groups that have declared a cease-fire or are involved in peace negotiations with the government. The UNHCHR fears that such a measure would only prolong the armed conflict because many of those who commit atrocities would not be sanctioned, opening the door to impunity.

· The community council at the municipality of Tangui (Chocó) issues an statement reporting the presence of FARC members inside their community, denouncing that their autonomy and principles have been violated by the interference of this group in their territory. They also reports that members of this armed group killed Teodolindo Rivas Mena, legal representative and leader of this community.

· In a forum with businessmen in Cartagena, Vice-president Francisco Santos proposes to the Colombian private sector the creation of a new “network of informers against corruption”. According to the data presented, Colombians are losing 15 billion pesos per year from tax revenue on extra-costs and illicit operations, El Colombiano reports.

· According to the authorities, suspected FARC members fired at a U.S. drug-spraying plane piloted by an American contractor, forcing the pilot to make a crash-landing that injured him. The plane was flying above the town of Santa Rosa, 220 miles north of Bogotá, when it was hit by small-arms fire, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. Colombian police are investigating which of the country’s two main rebel groups are responsible, Associated Press reports.

· Álvaro Jiménez Millán from the NGO Corporación Paz y Democracia reports that 86 of the 125 municipalities of Antioquia have reported incidents with land mines. He also says that mine-related accidents have increased by 159% since 2001 in Colombia.

Sat 30 – Security failure in the rehabilitation zones; 72 activists killed in Colombia last year.

· Colombian Prosecutors General Office reports that the special rehabilitation zones established by the government in 26 municipalities in the departments of Sucre and Bolivar (north Colombia) have not had the results expected. The reports also say that crime increased in most of the places, in Sincelejo by 21.6%, El Colombiano reports.

· 49 labour activists and another 23 social activists have been killed since Uribe took office in August 2002. In the same period, 792 extra judicial executions, 160 forced disappearances, 144 cases of torture, and 573 death threats have been registered in the ''databank on human rights and political violence'' kept by the Jesuit Centre for Popular Research and Education (CINEP) and by the organization Justice and Peace. According to the same data, 2,546 people were arbitrarily detained between July 2002 and July 2003.

· Abadio Green form the Indigenous Organization in Antioquia (OIA) rejects the accusations of corruption made by the leader of the paramilitaries, Carlos Castaño. He also calls on the authorities to protect the rights and the autonomy of indigenous communities across Colombia.

· Human rights groups in Bogotá report that the arrests of Jos Murillo and Alonso Campio come after the Regional Human Rights Committee “Joel Sierra” had denounced the presence of paramilitary groups operating in collusion with the security forces in Saravena.

Sun 31 –Amnesty denounces army abuses against activists; six soldiers killed by land mines

· In a press release Amnesty International reports that the recent detention of around 42 social activists and human rights defenders in Saravena (Arauca), 28 of whom remain under arrest, appears to be part of an on-going coordinated campaign to undermine the work of trade unionists and human rights activists and expose these sectors to increased attack from paramilitaries.

· Authorities report that six soldiers were killed by land mines planted in a rural area at the municipality of Teorama, Norte de Santander, near the border with Venezuela.

· A video broadcast on Colombian TV shows former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in captivity, nearly 19 months after FARC members seized her. While her family has said forcefully that they do not want authorities to mount a potentially dangerous rescue operation, in the video Betancourt says that she wants to be rescued - as long as the operation is planned carefully and approved by President Uribe Vélez. This was the first sign in more than a year that Betancourt might still be alive, AP reports.

· According to El Espectador, the UN Special Envoy for Colombia, James Lemoyne and the spokesperson of the FARC, Raul Reyes have been in continuous dialogue in preparation for a meeting in Brazil.

· President Uribe Vélez and a number of ministers and military officials are to govern from Cúcuta for three days. They are planning to meet with local civilians and politicians to improve the security and the economy. Cúcuta is one of the cities most affected by the four-decade civil war, the BBC reports.

· Reporting on the alliance between FARC and ELN groups, Leon Valencia, a former ELN commander turned political analyst, says the alliance is serious and will give new impetus to the armed conflict. The ELN will contribute a long tradition of urban operational experience and perhaps a greater and more agile political vision, whilst the FARC will provide greater military goals, and if the alliance is solid, contribute economic resources to revitalise the ELN.” Reuters reports.

Mon 01 – Colombian human rights defenders stage protest; drug traffickers control 4m hectares

· Some 50 human rights and social activists stage a sit-down protest outside the presidential palace in Bogotá, demanding explanations from President Uribe Vélez concerning the persecution of activists by the security forces. They also reject the bodyguards, armour-plated vehicles, bulletproof vests and cell-phones that the government has assigned them as protection.

· Colombia’s General Accounting Office reports that there are more than 4 million hectares of land in the hands of the drug traffickers in Colombia. This represents 48% of the most productive land of the country. The report also says that the government has given only 5,600 hectares to 450 displaced families.

· Colombian Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes ends his tenure. He focused his attention during the last three years on strengthening the agency’s ability to investigate and do research to better support the pronouncements and recommendations, helping the authorities to actually comply with them. During this period, the support of international cooperation agencies in financing human rights defence projects in the country greatly increased.

· The Colombia Prosecutor’s office presents charges against four army officials for the massacre of El Salado, (Bolivar) in February 2000. They are accused of failing to prevent the killing of more than 40 people by paramilitaries forces acting in the region. Among the accused is General Rodrigo Quiñonez, former Commander of the I Brigade.

Tues 02 – 46 Venezuelans kidnapped; accusations against NGO Justice and Peace and CAVIDA.

· President Uribe Vélez reports that Colombia's insurgent groups have spread violence across the country's borders and kidnapped 46 Venezuelans. Some of them have been released but it is not known how many remain in captivity. Venezuelan authorities have pointed out that much of the 1,400-mile porous border is wilderness and hard to monitor.

· Peace Brigades International reports on the serious accusations reported in the Colombia media against the Intereclesiastical Commission of Justice and Peace and the communities beside the Cacarica River, Chocó. The accusations came from the Commander of the Colombian Armed Forces, Gen. Mora Rangel, who described the humanitarian zones in Cacarica as “concentration camps”.

· Senator Jairo Clopatofsky, chairman of the Senate commission on national defence and security, acknowledges that “many abuses have been committed against activists’ rights in Colombia in recent months”, adding that such measures form part of a programme of national security and defence. He also reports the creation of a government commission “to discuss” these violations.

· Army forces announce they have destroyed a FARC camp with capacity for 250 people in the municipality of Medina, near Bogotá.

· In an article in the Miami Herald, relatives of the three US citizens working for a US defence contractor firm who were kidnapped by the FARC group, complain that after six months in captivity, the State Department is not doing enough to find them. The families recently learned that the hostages are alive.

Weds 03 – Colombian ex-presidents ask government for humanitarian agreement with FARC.

· Three Colombian ex-presidents, Alfonso López, Julio Cesar Turbay and Ernesto Samper send a letter to President Uribe Vélez and the Commander of the FARC, Manuel Marulanda, requesting them to sign a humanitarian agreement allowing an exchange of prisoners and the release of the civilians kidnapped by the FARC.

· In an interview in SEMANA magazine, former Air Force Chief Gen. Hector Fabio Velasco reports that the mysterious night - flights that surrounded Bogotá last year -under Pastrana’s government- were made by the DEA (US Drugs Enforcement Administration) department, without the authorisation of the Colombian authorities.

· President Uribe Vélez designates Volmar Antonio Perez Ruiz as the new Defensor del Pueblo (Ombudsman) for Colombia.

· The Social and Political Front composed of politicians, trade unions, students, communities and social and human rights defence organisations, reports death threats received in their offices in Cali, (Valle) from the paramilitary blocksCalima and Pacifico.

Thurs 04 – US approve US$ 25m for GAULA anti-kidnapping unit; car bomb explodes in Medellin.

· Following a recent series of official visits to Colombia, the Bush administration approves a US$25 million assistance package to develop the country's anti-kidnapping units. Colombia's anti-kidnapping GAULA police will use the funds to create a database, train its 400 members, and purchase equipment and helicopters.

· A car bomb explodes in the premises of the Colombian Conservative Party in Medellín, injuring one police officer, El Colombiano reports.

· An international task force arrests 14 members of a drug trafficking ring and seized more than US$7 billion in various assets. Ten of the arrests took place in England, and the other four in Colombia and Ecuador. The group transported drugs from Colombia to Europe through Ecuador and Mexico.


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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