Colombia This Week -- September 27, 2004

Fri 17 – Thousands march in Bogota against re-election; Alfredo Correa killed in Barranquilla.

· Tens of thousands of people march in Bogota, launching a campaign against a proposed constitutional amendment allowing President Uribe Velez to run for re-election in 2006. Organised by the country's main union federations and the two major leftist parties—the Independent Democratic Pole (PDI) and the Democratic Alternative—the march also protested against US Andean trade talks and Uribe's proposals to increase sales taxes and cut pension benefits. The organisers said they are building a broad coalition against Uribe's re-election. "We'll continue the struggle against President Uribe's neoliberal model," said Liberal Party co-director Sen. Piedad Cordoba Ruiz, quoted by the Bogota daily El Tiempo.

· The Barranquilla media reports commotion in this northern city as police confirm that gunmen kill sociologist and social leader Alfredo Correa and his bodyguard. Relatives angrily report that this is a political assassination, as he was targeted weeks ago by Colombian security forces after being accused by an informant of being an ideologue of the FARC group, El Tiempo reports.

· Colombia's Supreme Court approves the extradition of a leader of the country's paramilitary to the United States, El Tiempo daily reports. Juan Carlos Sierra, a leader of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, or AUC, faces charges of drug trafficking by US authorities.

· Prior to the visit of the Spanish Ministry of Defence to Colombia, Amnesty International warns the Spanish government that some of the measures taken by the Colombian government have worsened Colombia's human rights situation, making arms sales a ‘risk' for civilians, El Colombiano reports.


Sat 18 - Seven Venezuelan soldiers killed on border; government seizes drug cartel's assets.

· Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez challenges Colombia to improve security along its borders after seven people were killed near the line between the two countries. Six Venezuelan soldiers and an engineer working for the state oil company were slain in Apure state by armed Colombians. `We don't know if it was guerrillas or paramilitary groups,' Chavez said during his weekly radio and television show in Caracas, "The Colombian State must assume more responsibility for these acts,'' AP reports.

· Backed by 4,000 police officers, the Colombian government seizes control of the nation's largest pharmacy chain Drogas La Rebaja, saying cocaine trafficking had funded its creation and expansion. Prosecutors and police took over more than 400 stores in 28 cities in Colombia's largest-ever seizure of properties linked to drug traffickers. The value of the seized properties was estimated at $216 million, authorities said, Newsday reports.

· According to a report from El Tiempo, some 70 communities in nine different departments are not getting enough food due to blockades, as paramilitaries and guerrillas are increasing pressure on civilians.

· Former Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa says in an interview that he'll mount an independent presidential campaign for the next elections, El Espectador reports.


Sun 19 – 60,000 indigenous finish march peacefully; Army blames FARC for border killings.

· In the largest Colombian indigenous gathering in memory, El Tiempo reports that about 60,000 people march peacefully for 60 miles along a south-western highway between 14-16 September, demanding respect for their autonomy and opposing President Uribe's economic and security policies. "We demand that President Uribe demilitarise peasant and indigenous territories and that all armed actors respect the autonomy and sovereignty of our peoples," the march organisers said in a statement published in daily El Tiempo. The chief organisers were the Colombian National Indigenous Organisation (ONIC), the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) and the Northern Cauca Indigenous Councils Association (ACIN). Most of the participants were Nasa (also known as Paez) or Guambiano. Non indigenous marchers included Afro-Colombians, peasant farmers, union members and students, Colombia Week reports.

· Colombian authorities blame FARC rebels for killing at least six Venezuelan soldiers and an oil engineer in one of the deadliest attacks in recent years on the two countries' jungle border. Colombian Defence Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe said military intelligence showed the attack was carried out by rebels. "The narco-terrorist FARC was responsible for the murders of six soldiers and an engineer," he said in a statement, Reuters reports.

· In an interview in El Colombiano, Antonio Garcia, member of the Central Command of the National Liberation Army (ELN), proposes a national dialogue on drug trafficking, saying that this armed group has never been involved in narcotrafficking incidents and recommending manual eradication of coca crops instead of aerial fumigation, El Espectador reports.

· Three years after the killing of Yolanda Ceron in the city of Tumaco, friends and relatives celebrate a remembrance day for the director of Pastoral Social in the department of Nariño, highlighting her rights-based work with the victims of the Colombian conflict and her denunciation of the human rights crisis that has affected the region since Plan Colombia started the Inter-ecclesiastical Commission for Justice and Peace reports.


Mon 20 - DANE chief quits over ‘immoral order'; concerns over new decree for demobilisation.

· A report from DANE, the National Statistics Department, has led to the resignation of its director, Cesar Caballero. The report says that in both Bogota and Cali, fewer than 30 percent of survey respondents feel safe, whilst in Medellin the figure was 58 percent. In all three cities, more than two-thirds of victims of thefts and robberies said they didn't report the crimes because they believed the authorities would not do anything. Government media relations chief Ricardo Galan ordered Caballero to cancel a news conference in which the findings were to be released, and Caballero then tendered his resignation stating that the government was putting him in an unacceptable moral position, Semana magazine reports.

In a press release, the Brussels-based International Office on Human Rights, Action Colombia (OIDHACO) highlights concerns on the new presidential decree 2767 of 31 August 2004. The decree "lays out the benefits for demobilised and reinserted people" who voluntarily abandon armed groups in order to be reincorporated into civilian life. The decree favours the conversion of demobilised combatants into informers or co-operatives of the security forces in exchange for rewards. According to the decree, the government "can offer demobilised people certain mechanisms which provide them with an opportunity to participate in a livelihood project in a way that is safe and proper". OIDHACO considers that this new decree, far from being part of a peace policy, contributes to the involvement of the civilian population in the war, and to the re-cycling of demobilised combatants into State security bodies in such a way that they continue to participate in the conflict and are not reincorporated into civilian life.

In an interview with magazine Semana, PDI presidential candidate and Senator Antonio Navarro Wolf says about President Uribe's popularity that the government has increased the presence of the President in public life like never before in Colombia. A recent study from the University of the Savanna showed that President Uribe appeared on television for 1,240 hours last year, Semana magazine reports.

An attack blamed on members of the FARC kills 4 peasants and injures 17 in the north-western province of Antioquia. According to the authorities, the civilians were displaced people returned days before the killing from the city of Medellin, El Colombiano reports.


Tues 21 – Paramilitary leader killed outside Ralito; 4 peasants killed by FARC in Antioquia.

Miguel Arroyave, a top leader of Colombia's paramilitaries, is assassinated, throwing into further doubt the ongoing peace process with the government. The bodies of Arroyave and his bodyguards were found in remote parts of the eastern province of Meta. One of the theories being put forward by police is that he was killed by some of his own men, opposed to peace talks with the government, BBC reports.

The Colombian Prosecutor's Office (Procuraduria) present charges against three officials of the Colombian air force for bombing a building in the municipality of El Carmen (Norte de Santander). A ten-year-old boy was killed and two more injured in the attack that happened in February 2003, Vanguardia Liberal reports.

Colombia's Central Bank reports it will sell $138 million in foreign reserves to the government. The International Monetary Fund expects Colombia's public debt to fall to 51 percent of gross domestic product in 2005 from 60 percent in 2002, Boomerang reports.


Weds 22 – Police accuse AUC leaders of Arroyave's killings; Attorney Gen. frees Alcibiades.

Col. Oscar Naranjo, head of Colombia's judicial police reports that intelligence indicates other paramilitary leaders ordered the killing of Miguel Arroyave because they felt ‘he was becoming too bloodthirsty in his attempt to consolidate power in his region'. He is suspected of ordering the recent murders in northern Bogota of three politicians from the province of Meta, where the Centauros Bloc operates. "Everything indicates that the death of Arroyave comes from the very heart of paramilitarism and that he was executed by paramilitaries,' Naranjo said in an interview with Associated Press.

At the same time that 400 unarmed indigenous guards were arriving in Bogota from the southwestern province of Cauca, the Attorney General's office frees Alcibiades Escue, one of the indigenous leaders detained two weeks ago prior to the indigenous ‘Minga' march that has mobilised more than 60,000 people and that the government has tried to boycott, El Colombiano reports.

AUC Commander Salvatore Mancuso reports they will return to peace talks, despite the death of one of their chief negotiators, who police say was gunned down by his own men. "We ask the authorities to seriously investigate in order to clarify these unfortunate events," said a statement issued by the AUC leadership. "At the same time, we publicly express our willingness to continue exploring the path to peace".

Columnist Fabio Velasquez writes in the Cali newspaper El Pais that the communities that participated in the indigenous march last week have built a civil resistance movement ‘like few others in the country, and they can show with pride that the war is not a core feature of the structures of their lives', criticising President Uribe's opposition to the march and the efforts made by the government to undermine the importance of the march.


Thurs 23 – Peace building programme awarded by UNESCO; transport strike disrupts economy.

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have selected a Plan International project ‘Conflict Resolution for Adolescents' in Colombia as ‘best practice' in education. The project was selected based on its quality and innovation, ability to be replicated, potential for growth and its success to date. UK-based Plan International and local partner International Centre of Education and Human Development (CINDE) are implementing the three-year project, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Reuters reports.

Truck drivers, owners and government officials meet before a Congressional committee to discuss how to end a 10-day-old transport strike. According to El Tiempo, the strike has seriously disrupted the regional economies, generating shortages in some products.

Workers take over the Cali hospital ‘San Juan de Dios', demanding six months of pay and the removal of the director, Dra. Beatriz Hoyos, accusing her of working towards the future closure of the institution, El Pais reports.


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