Colombia This Week -- September 13, 2004

Fri 03 –CODHES: Forced displacement increased in 2004; Uribe asks IMF mission to spend more.

· The Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) reports that 130,400 Colombians fled their homes in the first six months of 2004, contradicting the figures presented by the government claiming the situation was improving. The report criticises the way the Colombian authorities are treating the 3 million displaced people, noting that thousands of communities are besieged and blockaded by armed groups across Colombia despite the figures presented by the Colombian government, El Espectador reports.

· Colombia wants to sign a new deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to replace its standby loan, which expires in January, but wants easier conditions, Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla reports. Carrasquilla did not say why the government wants more flexibility in its spending, but improved public finances have not yet brought the 5 percent annual economic growth needed to begin to significantly reduce a 60-percent poverty rate, Reuters reports.

· El Tiempo reports more than 400 unarmed indigenous people from the department of Cauca are heading to Caqueta in search of the mayor of Toribio and 4 other indigenous leaders kidnapped by the FARC.


Sat 04 – Shoot-out in Colombian church kills three; Uribe calls Const. Court to annul ruling.

· A gunfight broke out in a church in Putumayo leaving at least three people dead and 14 wounded, authorities report. Assailants entered the church and shot and killed a man in the pews, said Maj. Eduardo Beltran, police commander in Puerto Asis, where the attack occurred. The apparent target of the hit men was in another row with his family, however, and when the shooting started, he took out a gun and shot back, the commander said. "It turned into a firefight," Beltran said. He said investigations indicate that right-wing militia groups or common criminals may have been behind the attack. Among the dead were two men and one woman, Beltran said. One of the injured was a child, he added. Pilar Castro, a hospital doctor, told local radio that the death toll numbered four, and included children. There was no immediate way to account for the discrepancy.

· Colombia's government disagrees with a decision by the country's highest court to overturn a controversial antiterrorism bill and will ask the court this week to review its ruling. President Uribe lashed out at the court's decision, saying that all the state's institutions should support his security strategies. A court official said that once the government asks for a review, the court would have approximately 20 working days to either reaffirm or change the earlier ruling, El Espectador reports.

· According to a report presented by the Colombian Accounting Office (Contraloria) the government of President Uribe Velez has considerably cut spending on environmental programmes. The report criticises the merging of two Ministries in one, (Environment and Housing & Development), reporting that only 20% of the programmed budget has been implemented, El Tiempo reports.


Sun 05 - Peace week will be celebrated across Colombia; 10 soldiers die in accident in Arauca.

· A coalition of nongovernmental groups opens Peace Week in Colombia by calling for a multilateral ceasefire by all armed groups in the conflict. According to Camilo Gonzalez, director of the Institute for Peace (Indepaz), this year's event will be celebrated across the whole country and aims to set the scene for a peace proposal involving all armed groups, El Pais reports.

· A dozen Colombian military special forces troops drowned in the Tocoragua river near the city of Tame (Arauca) when a bridge collapsed in heavy rain as their truck attempted to cross it, dumping the vehicle into a raging river, army chief Gen. Martin Carreño reports. The accident occurred Saturday night on the Tocoragua River near the town of Tame, 390 kilometres northeast of Bogota. Officials said that 11 of the 12 bodies had been recovered with one still missing but presumed dead after an extensive search by fellow soldiers.

· 26 people are arrested in the municipality of Huila in a raid carried out by Colombian federal agents (DAS). Those arrested are accused of being collaborators of the FARC's Teofilo Forero Column, Colprensa reports.


Mon 06 - AUC offers safe- haven for ELN; arrest orders for soldiers who killed unionists.

· In a brief interview in a TV local station, paramilitary commander ‘Adolfo Paz' offers to clear an area under the control of the AUC in Southern Antioquia (Oriente Antioqueño) in order to provide a security haven for the ELN group to celebrate the National Convention, the mechanism by which the ELN hopes to launch peace talks. Jaime Fajardo, Peace Advisor for the Governor of Antioquia has confirmed the offer, El Mundo reports.

· The Attorney General's office orders the arrest of a military officer and two soldiers in connection with the killing of three union officials last month. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's office, said there is also an arrest warrant for one civilian linked to the shootings. The unionists were killed in the northeast Arauca province by army troops who claim they were leftist rebels. The army says the men were shot during a firefight, and claim to have found weapons and explosives on their bodies after the gunfight. Union leaders in Colombia say the men were union officials with no links to the ELN. At least 90 union members were killed in Colombia last year, according to a recent report from the Belgium-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Many of the killings were blamed on right-wing militias that frequently accuse labour activists of having ties to Marxist insurgents, AP reports.

· In a new announcement regarding an exchange of prisoners between the government of Colombia and the FARC rebel group, the latter presents a proposal to de-militarise a security zone in the south-western province of Caqueta for 72 hours for talks regarding the exchange of prisoners, El Colombiano reports.


Tues 07 – New ‘Embrujo' slams government security policies; Army reports on ‘Patriot plan'.

The Colombian Platform for Human Rights, Democracy and Development made up of more that 90 social and non governmental organisations presents a second report entitled "The Authoritarian Curse: the second year of Government of Uribe Velez". The report, launched in four different cities and forums in Colombia, criticises the government for policies on education, health, labour, housing, agrarian reform and food security as the figures indicate worsening conditions for the poor. Among the report's 90 contributors are Colombia's most respected analysts, international consultants, academics and human rights organisations, El Colombiano reports.

Reporting for the first time on the Patriot Plan military operation, Colombia's military says it has killed or captured nearly 300 Marxist rebels in an offensive in the south of the country. The military says 167 rebels have been killed and another 123 captured in the offensive. It says 49 soldiers have also been killed. The offensive involves troops going into vast areas of southern Colombia with the intention of destroying jungle strongholds of the FARC. The government hopes to eventually pressurise the group to the negotiating table for peace talks, Reuters reports.

During nine months as Governor of Valle del Cauca, Angelino Garzon has been trying to improve the relations between the government and the labour movement, launching the Inter-Institutional Regional Human Rights Committee to build consensus with unions on social policies, and inviting unions to serve on the boards of government-owned enterprises. "We want to make social pacts with the unions and then prove that we'll comply with those agreements," said Jorge Vasquez, Garzon's labour advisor, "It's easy to sign on to agreements like collective bargaining contracts and International Labour Organisation conventions. But here in Colombia, unfortunately, compliance with these kinds of agreements has been more the exception than the rule', Colombia Week reports.


Wed 08- Europe leaders sceptical on AUC process; Santos apologises but does not resign .

According to Foreign Minister Carolina Barco, the latest proposal presented to the European Union to fund the paramilitary peace process is based on the principles of truth, justice and reparation. Despite this, the Director General of External Relations for the European Union Eneko Landaburu reports that the EU has not changed its position and needs guarantees from the Colombian government that the process would not imply impunity for massive human rights violations, concluding that they are more concerned with providing aid to the communities affected by the conflict, Efe reports.

Vice President Francisco Santos, President Uribe's appointed advisor for human rights issues, admits his earlier mistake regarding false allegations that the three union leaders killed last month by the Army were involved in rebel activity. "Yes, we were wrong," Mr. Santos told reporters. ‘When these incidents happen, you call the commanders to find out what happened, you listen to what the people on the ground are saying ... and I, as Vice President, have to pass this on to the public'. Despite his erroneous allegations, he is apparently not considering resignation, CNN reports.

Senator Antonio Navarro, speaking on behalf of the Independent Democratic Pole (PDI) party, offers an alliance to the Liberal Party to confront President Uribe Velez if the latter succeeds in changing the Constitution rules and runs for re-election, El Colombiano reports.

After federal agents arrested the mayor of Rioacha, Wilder Antonio Rios Rojas and six other city officials last week, for diverting health care subsidies for poor people to paramilitary groups in control of the area, Rodrigo Tovar, commander of the AUC's Northern Bloc and chief negotiator in demobilisation talks with the government, reports that the "victims of this fraud were La Guajira indigenous communities."


Thurs 09 - Villavicencio: 6 killed in social cleansing; Indigenous secure release of 2 leaders.

Commander of the Police in Villavicencio (Meta), Jorge Orlando Nieto reports that six homeless people have been killed in one night as they were targeted by unknown gunmen when they were sleeping in a sports centre, El Colombiano reports.

Indigenous Nasas marching from Cauca department rescue Arquimedes Vitonas, mayor of Toribio, and Gilberto Muñoz, after members of the FARC group retained them for two weeks. Hundreds of Indigenous staged protests against the kidnapping, calling for the leaders' release, El Pais reports.

Colombian Ombudsman Volmar Perez urges the Colombian government to review the security policies based on massive detentions carried out by the armed forces because the accusations against those detained are frequently very weak and after months in prison when they return to the communities they are stigmatised by armed groups. He noted that some of those detained in the raids in Arauca have been threatened after being released from prison without charges, El Tiempo reports.

Colombian authorities report the capture of Gener Sanchez Diaz in the municipality of Facatativa (Cundinamarca). He is alleged to be a member of the 42nd FARC front and is accused by the Attorney General's office of terrorist acts, SNE reports.

Following revelations of an immigration scam in Bogota that has enabled at least 50 Colombians to gain political asylum in Canada on forged papers, previous applicants are concerned about the effects of the scandal. An undetermined number of people paid bribes as large as $6,100 to civil servants employed by the Colombian National Senate in exchange for fake documents identifying them as victims of death or abduction threats, Toronto Star reports.




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