Colombia This Week -- September 6, 2004

Fri 27 – Humanitarian mission visits San Juan River in Choco; FARC kills mayor and councillor.

· The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Colombian authorities send the first humanitarian mission to Colombia's Middle San Juan River region in Choco, since recent fighting forced at least 1,200 Afro-Colombians to flee their homes in the area. The mayor of the municipality of the Middle San Juan River, called for urgent action after fighting between guerrillas and paramilitaries earlier this month. The clashes have resulted in a deepening humanitarian crisis, which could be affecting as many as 6,000 people, according to the local authorities. In addition, thousands more are suffering from an economic blockade imposed by the armed groups.

· Suspected rebels from the FARC group kill a mayor and a former town council member after abducting them at a roadblock in eastern Colombia as they headed to a meeting on how to confront violence in the Casanare department, authorities reports. Luis Zorro, mayor of Chamenza and Siervo Plazas, and a former councillor were killed after the rebels pulled the two from their car, AP reports.

· In a new worrying incident, authorities report that soldiers from the Colombian army have killed a woman who was seven months pregnant, on a farm in the department of Magdalena, El Espectador reports.


Sat 28 – Army kills 21 paramilitaries in Casanare; US debates paying for demobilisation process

· The Colombian army reports that troops clashed with a paramilitary group in Casanare, killing between 21 and 35 of them. The army recovered the bodies of 21 paramilitary fighters from the battlefield after the shooting stopped and were searching for more bodies that locals said were thrown into a nearby river, army Gen. Justo Eliseo Pena told local radio. The gunmen were members of the Peasant Self-Defence Forces of Casanare, a paramilitary faction that has shunned ongoing peace talks between the government and the paramilitary umbrella group, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, or AUC, El Tiempo reports.

· The Bush administration is considering whether it can provide money to help demobilise AUC paramilitary troops in Colombia despite the AUC's official designation as a terrorist organisation. Proponents say the money would help bolster Colombia's efforts to demobilise the AUC. The Uribe administration has appealed for up to US $150 million in international aid to pay for this demobilisation effort, Reuters reports.

· In an article in El Tiempo, the Association of Relatives of Detained-Disappeared Persons (ASFADDES) reports that record numbers of mass graves have been found this year in Antioquia. According to the numbers provided by the Attorney General's office, 146 bodies have been exhumed this year but only 60 of them have been identified.


Sun 29 – Politicians denounce sinister ‘Operation Dragon'; Indigenous delegation missing.

· In a press conference in Bogota, a group of Colombian congressmen claim that after raids by the Attorney General's office in the city of Cali they can confirm that a plot to kill Congressmen, trade unionists and social and political leaders has been discovered. According to reports, a Colonel from the Army's 3rd Brigade has been detained while working for a private security company hired by the Colombian government to investigate the privatisation process of EMCALI. He is alleged to have had papers and information from intelligence sources with a list of names of potential targets for the ‘so called' Operation Dragon, El Colombiano reports.

· Members of an indigenous organisation (ACIN) report that a delegation including the leaders of Toribio, -an indigenous community in the province of Cauca-, are missing, calling upon all the armed groups with presence in the area to report their well-being. Authorities blame the kidnapping of the mayor and four indigenous leaders on the FARC group, El Pais reports.


Mon 30 – Government considers FARC proposal; Government faces 10 international court suits.

· The Colombian government reports it will consider a demand from the FARC group to hold face-to-face talks over swapping jailed insurgents for dozens of hostages, including three US military contractors. FARC spokesman Raul Reyes told a local TV station the rebels are willing to negotiate personally with government Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo in a safe haven. "Our spokesmen should sit down with the representatives of the government face-to-face ... and for that a zone, which we call a security zone and which others call a demilitarised zone, is required," Reyes said in the interview broadcast by Noticias Uno.

· Director of the Presidential Programme for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Carlos Franco reports that in addition to the case in La Gabarra, in which the Colombian state needs to pay thousands of millions of pesos in compensation for massive killings and displacement, there are another ten new cases in which the victims are demanding compensation for war violence, Colprensa reports.

· Horacio Serpa, Colombian Ambassador for the Organisation of American States and ex-presidential candidate, resigns over policy differences with President Uribe Velez. According to reports, he is coming back to Colombia to work with the Liberal party, El Tiempo reports.


Tues 31- Constitutional Court rejects antiterrorist bill; Prosecutor accuses police over Guaitarilla.

· Colombia's Constitutional Court strikes down President Uribe's controversial antiterrorism bill because of procedural errors. The bill, which passed through Congress irregularly in June and only lacked the Court's approval, would have given the Colombian army powers to search homes, detain suspects without warrants, and tap phones. To revive the bill, Uribe's administration would have to debate it in Congress all over again. The bill has been sharply criticised by human rights groups who fear the armed forces will abuse the new powers. The defeat comes as Uribe is mustering congressional support for a change in the constitution, which would allow him to run for a second four-year term in 2006, AFP reports.

· Colombia's Inspector General's office (Procuraduria) accuses 10 police agents of complicity in the March killings of elite anti kidnapping police officers and informants by army troops. The deaths shocked the Colombian public, and were initially attributed to friendly fire. But, according to a statement from Inspector-General Edgardo Maya's office, the slain police officers were probably working with a criminal gang on the night of the shootings, and may have been planning to steal up to 2,5 tons of cocaine. None of the 10 accused police officials was at the scene when the killings occurred, but most probably had knowledge of the slain police officers' plans that night, the statement said.

· Families of guerrilla hostages urge face-to-face meetings between government and FARC after seeing a glimmer of hope in FARC's statement over an exchange of prisoners. "This is the biggest advance we have seen since Ingrid was kidnapped," said Juan Carlos Lecompte, wife of politician Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002. The rebels also hold about 20 other Colombian politicians, dozens of government soldiers and three Americans, El Espectador reports.

· A year after the Colombian Army conducted the operation ‘Freedom One' in the central province of Cundinamarca, locals report that the area has been controlled by four different paramilitary groups aiming to replace the FARC, El Tiempo reports


Weds 01 – Report says indigenous targeted by paramilitaries; fighting in Choco kills twelve.

· A report commissioned by the Colombian Organisation of Indigenous people (ONIC) and the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (Codhes) to investigate how the conflict is affecting the indigenous communities under the ‘Democratic Security policies' concludes that between January and June this year there were 313 events that involved human rights violations, among them 88 violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), 12 violent clashes within communities and 24 cases of massive forced displacement. According to researcher Diego Henao, the most alarming conclusion is that internal displacement for indigenous communities has increased 261% since the beginning of the year. Paramilitaries are responsible for 49.7% of displacement, the Colombian army for 34.5%, FARC for15.2% and ELN for 0.7%, El Colombiano reports.

· Fighting between guerrillas and paramilitaries in the western province of Choco leaves 12 people dead and two civilians injured near the municipality of Altos del Palmar. According to reports, both groups are disputing the coca harvest in the area, AFP reports.

· In more ‘friendly fire' clashes between security forces, the Colombian army kills two judicial police officers in the province of Santander, France Press reports.

· Amnesty International condemns the kidnapping of several indigenous leaders by the FARC group, calling for their immediate release. The Governor of the indigenous community of Toribio, Plinio Trochez; Mayor of Toribio Municipality, Arquimedes Vitonas Noscue; former mayor of Toribio Municipality, Gilberto Muñoz Coronado; Acting Governor of the indigenous community of San Francisco Ruben Dario Escue; and their driver, Erminson Velasco, were kidnapped after they set out from the department of Cauca on 22 August. "These latest examples of kidnapping and hostage-taking show a blatant disregard for the lives of civilians and represent a flagrant breach of international humanitarian law. The FARC guerrillas should immediately and unconditionally release the hostages," Amnesty International said.

· Colombian troops report they have captured an alleged FARC commander accused in the 1999 killing of three US indigenous activists kidnapped and murdered near the Venezuelan border, El Tiempo reports. The Colombian army suspects that Jorge Eliecer is the leader of the 56th Front of the FARC.

· Experts suspect a new threat is lurking in the mountains and jungles of Colombia, as scientists report they have found modified coca plants that are bigger, faster-growing and produce more of the compound that gives cocaine its kick. Giant coca plants have also been spotted in the state of Putumayo, historically a major coca-growing region in southern Colombia, where locals call the new varieties White Bolivian and Black Bolivian, AP reports.


Thurs 02 – Mayor of Riohacha arrested for paramilitarism; Powell warns Uribe on human rights.

· The Attorney General's office reports it has arrested Wilder Antonio Rios Rojas, mayor of Riohacha (Guajira) and ten other city officials including his private secretary after an investigation concludes that they have been working for the paramilitary groups in the area, diverting health care funds to paramilitaries, El Tiempo reports.

· Speaking from Panama, US Secretary of State Colin Powell says that Colombia may not be meeting congressional standards for improving protection of human rights. Previous US certifications of rights progress in Colombia have been greeted with a barrage of criticism from human rights groups. But Powell cautioned that Uribe "has to keep his eye on human rights and civil rights, to make sure he is cracking down in a way that is consistent with international human rights standards." He said he reminded Uribe of the link that Congress has established between progress on rights protection and full funding of US assistance programmes. It was not clear when the next certification of rights progress in Colombia is due, AP reports.

· Authorities report that two police officers have been killed in an ambush near Pensilvania (Caldas) after a roadside car explodes, injuring 10 others. Police blame the 47th front of the FARC group for the attack, El Espectador reports.


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