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On 11 June 1998, ten members of a paramilitary group reportedly arrived in El Diez (situated in the hamlet of Sabaleta in the municipality of El Carmen del Atrato, department of Chocó) and began to fire indiscriminately, killing two people. They then informed the 150 inhabitants that, unless they left their homes within 24 hours, they would be killed and their homes and the surrounding mountains bombed.
Members of the community subsequently fled, some taking refuge in the surrounding mountain areas and the remaining fleeing to El Carmen del Atrato. Two members are known to have gone to the municipal capital to denounce the attack to the human rights ombudsman (personero).
The same paramilitary group has allegedly been responsible for intimidating other members of nearby indigenous communities, regularly accusing them of being guerrilla sympathizers. Though the Colombian Army is reportedly aware of the location of the paramilitary groupï½s base they have failed to take any preventive action against them.
Although a Colombian army captain acknowledged the presence of paramilitary groups in the area, in a meeting he attended on 13 June with the Organización Indígena Regional Embera Wounaan (OREWA) and the mayor of El Carmen del Atrato, he claimed the army did not have the capacity to act. Later that day an armed confrontation took place between paramilitary and guerrilla forces operating in the area.
According to witnesses later that day a group of 50 paramilitary group members traveling towards Sabaleta forcibly abducted Samuel Velásquez and Carlos Alberto Tanugama, two members of the Sabaleta indigenous community. Their bodies were found abandoned on the road which runs between the departmental capital, Quibdó, and El Carmen del Atrato on the morning of 14 June.
Given the failure of the authorities to take decisive action to dismantle paramilitary groups in the department and in the light of a spate of killings of members of indigenous and black communities, including those living in the municipality of Murindó, department of Chocó, Amnesty International is seriously concerned for the safety of members of the indigenous community, approximately 200 of whom are currently displaced in El Carmen del Atrato. The remaining 150 members of the community are reportedly sheltering in the surrounding mountains.
Intelligence gathered by the Technical Investigations Unit of the Attorney General's Office led the Unit's regional director to write to the Personero, People's Ombudsman, for Villavivencio, capital of Meta department. The letter stated that paramilitary groups under the leadership of the Castaño brothers were establishing themselves in the region and that one of their operational aims would be to "reiniciar una labor de exterminio en contra de miembros y organismos dedicados a la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en el Meta", restart an extermination campaign against members and organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights in Meta.
Reports suggest that despite this official recognition of the danger and the persistent rumors of an impending paramilitary incursion into Villavivencio, no effective steps have been taken by the authorities to protect the human rights community in Meta.
Increasing political violence in Meta has caused many people to seek refuge in Villavivencio. The security forces and their paramilitary allies often accuse internally displaced people and human right workers who seek to defend them of being guerrillas or guerrilla sympathizers. In the past those facing such accusations have often been subject to death threats, "disappearance" and extrajudicial execution.
The paramilitary groups led by the Castaño brothers are reported to have been responsible for attacks on at least two towns in the department of Meta, Mapiripán and Puerto Alvira, in which at least 50 people were killed. Both attacks reportedly took place with the collaboration or acquiescence of the armed forces.
A death threat made on 9 July 1998 against José Daniel Alvarez, General Coordinator of the Asociación de Familiares de los Detenidos y Desaparecidos, ASFADDES, Association of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, raises fears for his safety and that of all members of ASFADDES.
An anonymous man telephoned the ASFADDES offices in the capital, Bogotá, demanding to speak to José Daniel Alvarez. When he was told that José Daniel was not in the office, he threatened him saying: "Dígale a ese triplehijueputa que ya le tenemos cogido y lo vamos a matar," "Tell that son-of-a-bitch that we already have him and we are going to kill him."
Members of ASFADDES have frequently been threatened with death, harassed and attacked as a result of their human rights work.
Please send appeals expressing concern for the safety of the persons attacked and threatened in the situations described above, and also for the people of Simití and surrounding areas in Bolívar and the displaced at the stadium Quibdó, described elsewhere in this issue, to the following:
President of Colombia
Palacio de Nariño|
Carrera 8 No. 7-26
faxes: 011 57 1 284-2186/286-7434
Alfonso Gómez Méndez
Fiscal General de la Nación
Apartado Aéreo 29855
faxes: 011 57 1 570-2000 (when phone picks up, dial 2017 for fax tone)
Minister of Interior
Ministerio del Interior
Carrera 8, No. 8-09, Piso 2
faxes: 011 57 1 281-5884/286-6524/286-0053