Colombia This Week -- April 11, 2005

Fri 01 - Three ELN killed in kidnap-rescue; 5 NGO workers retained by an armed group in Atrato.

·         The Colombian army reports the rescue of three people kidnapped by the ELN guerrilla group. Officials said that during the rescue effort to free the three civilians in Calima-Darien (Valle), three ELN members were killed and two more injured. The civilians were kidnapped during the Easter holidays and forced by their captors to march through the jungle towards the Choco department, El Pais reports.

·         In a public statement, the Colombian NGO Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace reports that five of its members have been retained by an armed group in the Jiguamiando River basin (Choco) while they were accompanying the afro-Colombian communities living in the area. The statement calls upon the armed group to respect their lives and to free them, Colprensa reports.

·         More than 30 intellectuals, artists and religious leaders of Europe, the United States and Latin America send a public letter to Colombian President Uribe Velez criticising him for endangering Colombian human rights defenders by accusing them of having links with guerrilla groups. The letter calls this a very irresponsible attitude and calls upon the President to rectify and protect the work of the Colombian and international human rights organisations, El Tiempo reports.

·         Peruvian Defence Minister Roberto Chiabra says his government has detected 37,000 new acres under coca cultivation. He said the growth is a by-product of the U.S.-backed anti drug efforts in neighbouring Colombia, France-press reports.

Sat 02 – Spanish government may mediate with guerrilla groups; Uribe to visit China next week.

·         Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said during last week’s visit to Colombia that Spain will lend the Colombian army three military planes and may mediate in peace talks with guerrillas. Spain is willing to act as mediator in peace talks between Colombia and guerrilla groups under the condition that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army cease hostilities: “We want to be the best ally Colombia has in the fight to create peace,'' said Zapatero, ‘there is no justification for the use of arms', he said on RCN radio.

·         President Uribe Velez is travelling to China and Japan next week to seek financing for major infrastructure works and open new markets for Colombia. Foreign Minister Carolina Barco said Colombia is lagging behind in its relations with nations of the Pacific. She also admitted that to Asia "Colombia is an enigma, and we all know that our image is difficult to understand." The president is travelling with a delegation of 140 people and has plans to meet businessmen of China and visit industrial complexes and historical sites, SNE reports.

Sun 03- U.S. Drug report: Plan Colombia is failing; 18 suspected ELN detained near Venezuela.

·         A White House report shows that a massive aerial spraying offensive last year failed to dent the area of coca under cultivation in Colombia. Critics of Washington's effort say the report indicates that the Colombian and U.S. governments are losing the war. "The U.S. government's own data provides stark evidence that the drug war is failing to achieve its most basic objectives," said John Walsh, of the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank critical of U.S. drug policies in Colombia. The report by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said that despite a record-setting aerial eradication offensive, 281,694 acres of coca remained in Colombia at the end of 2004 -- an increase from the 281,323 acres left over after spraying the year earlier. Walsh also pointed out that prices of cocaine and heroin have been steadily dropping over the years on U.S. streets, indicating availability of the drugs has not diminished Associated Press reports.

·         Authorities arrested 18 alleged ELN members last month in the northern province of Norte de Santander on charges of trafficking arms, explosives and drugs, National Police chief Jorge Castro said, El Pais reports.

Mon 04 – Attorney killed in Medellin; 106 people killed this year in Ciudad Bolivar, Bogota.

·         Norman Humberto Gomez, a 37 year old member of the Colombian judicial police (CTI) from the Attorney General’s office in Antioquia is shot dead by gunmen in the city of Medellin, El Colombiano reports.

·         The Colombian Attorney General’s office reports that 106 people have been killed violently this year in Ciudad Bolivar (Bogota). According to the investigators -and despite the figures-, ‘these are isolated cases and do not correspond to any ‘extermination plan’ but to vendettas between common delinquents’, Caracol radio reports.

·         A joint operation of the National Police and the Attorney General’s office in the municipalities of Ricaurte, Barbacoas and Mallama (Nariño) detains 26 people for allegedly collaborating with the FARC group. The detainees include Jaime Ariel Garcia, a candidate in the upcoming mayoral elections in Ricaurte on 24 April. The Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights defended the detainees as honourable community members, El Tiempo reports.

·         Pressure from the Army and the FARC group in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta has displaced 21 Wiwa indigenous families from their homes in Dibulla, a municipality in the northern province of La Guajira, El Tiempo reports.

Tues 05 – Amnesty demands freedom of retained defenders; OAS alarms re demobilised fighters.

·         In reaction to the abduction of five human rights activists working with the Afro-descendant community of Jiguamiando and Curvarado, Amnesty International calls for action to be taken to guarantee their safety and to bring those responsible for their abduction, whether members of guerrilla forces or paramilitary groups, to justice.

·         Sergio Caramagna, the OAS envoy to the peace process with the paramilitaries of the AUC (Self-Defence forces of Colombia) alerts the government that demobilised paramilitary fighters have been recruited by other delinquent groups. More than 20 re-inserted former combatants have already been killed in non-politically motivated circumstances, and Caramagna named Norte de Santander and Valle del Cauca as the most critical areas. The commander of the national police in Cucuta reported that 15 demobilised people from the ‘Catatumbo bloc’ and 13 more from the ‘Calima bloc’ have been detained for robbery, possession of arms and explosives, El Tiempo reports.

·         Some 250 Colombians caught in the cross-fire between irregular armed groups have fled their community in Bojaya, western Colombia, bringing the number of people displaced in the area in recent weeks to more than 2,000.  UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has issued repeated warnings about the worsening humanitarian situation in the mid- Atrato area, (Choco), calling on the Colombian government and the international community to take urgent action to avoid a potential humanitarian disaster. The displaced inhabitants were escorted by Colombian authorities from the Ombudsman's office, the General Procurator's Office as well as representatives of community associations. They had been caught between guerrilla and paramilitary groups for the last two weeks, UNHCR news reports.

·         The Antioquia Supreme Court has approved 10-year jail sentences for army soldiers Sandro Fernando Barrero and Humberto de Jesus. Blandon in connection with the killings of two peasants accused of supporting guerrillas in Carmen de Viboral, (western Antioquia) in the year 2000, El Colombiano reports.

Weds 06 – FARC ambush in Arauca kills 18; UN & diplomatic envoys visit San Jose de Apartado.

·         The 10th front of the FARC group ambushes a military convoy, killing 18 soldiers, according to the army chief. In the latest attack, explosives were detonated as the patrol was passing between Fortul and Tame, in the oil-rich state of Arauca on the border with Venezuela. According to reports, some wounded soldiers were finished off with shots to the head. An army major and three other officers were among those killed, said Gen Castellanos in a statement, BBC reports.

·         UN officials working in Colombia and diplomats from Spain, United States, Great Britain, Sweden, Netherlands, France and Switzerland visit the peace community of San Jose de Apartado. Members of the community asked the international community to pressurise the Colombian government for progress in the investigation regarding the massacre that happened in this community last February in which 8 people were allegedly killed by a Colombian Army patrol, according to witnesses, El Tiempo reports.

·         Five U.S. soldiers accused of smuggling cocaine from Colombia should be extradited to Colombia to stand trial, member of the Colombian Senate’s foreign affairs committee Jairo Clopatofsky, said: ‘The U.S. Army personnel should be extradited if evidence suggests they broke Colombian laws… extradition should be “a two-way street’.” The five were arrested on 29 March after 35 pounds of cocaine were found aboard a U.S. military plane that flew from a base in Colombia to El Paso, Texas. U.S. ambassador to Colombia, William Wood, said the soldiers are immune from prosecution, Colombia Week reports.

·         The Colombian Ministry of Defence declares an emergency to care for more than 2,700 Colombian soldiers affected with leishmaniasis. The Army intends to buy 303,000 treatment capsules for the soldiers fighting the FARC in the jungles in south Colombia, the Vice Ministry of Defence Jorge Mario Eastman reports.

Thurs 07 – 11 killings daily in Colombia due to the conflict; Arias links to paras may be studied.

·         Eleven people are killed daily in Colombia because of the internal armed conflict. More than 1,037 Colombians have been killed for this reason since January 2005, the NGO Human Rights and Displacement Consultancy (CODHES) reports. Among the victims of all the armed groups in Colombia were 144 civilians.  The statement criticises the FARC ambush in Arauca, in which 18 soldiers from the Colombian army were killed this week. CODHES calls upon all those involved in the conflict to stop attacks on civilians.

·         The human rights unit of the Attorney General’s office sends a petition to investigate Congresswoman from Monteria, Rocio Arias and her links with the paramilitary commanders concentrated in the haven of Santa Fe de Ralito. The petition is being studied by Attorney General (r) Luis Alberto Santana, and much of the evidence is based on witness testimony, El Colombiano reports.

·         The anticorruption policy, a reported priority in the agenda of President Uribe Velez, is having no impact on Colombian institutions. According to Rosa Ines Ospina, from NGO Transparency for Colombia, the government is failing to establish transparent requirements for the so called ‘meritocracy’ and it is using the appointment of relatives in foreign diplomatic posts to pay back favours from some Congressmen who traded their support for the re-election initiative promoted by Uribe’s aides. The NGO commented that this has worsened the situation, calling on the government to change their practices.

·         The U.S. Ambassador to Colombia claims that the five U.S. soldiers detained while transporting drugs in a U.S. military plane cannot be extradited because of an agreement between the two countries signed in 1974. He also argued that the men were working for U.S. embassy staff in Colombia and therefore qualify for diplomatic immunity. He sought to assure Bogota that the soldiers, who are thought to be in military custody somewhere in the U.S., would not escape justice, El Tiempo reports.

·         In a public letter the president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Sidiki Kaba ‘profoundly regrets’ the public support expressed by Spanish Primer Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero for the security policies implemented by the government of Colombia, suggesting that he take ‘a closer look at the reality of the nature of the violence affecting the people in Colombia’, El Tiempo reports.

Colombia This Week is a news summary produced and distributed by ABColombia Group. Sources include daily Colombian, U.S., 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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