Colombian Army Colluding with Paramilitary Death Squad
News from Colombia |
on: Monday, 9 March 2009
Reports from the remote Colombian region of Guaviare say that soldiers in the area are collaborating with a rightwing paramilitary militia to terrorise residents of small villages whom they accuse of supporting the FARC guerrilla insurgency. Military personnel are also allegedly launching indiscriminate attacks against some of the villages along the banks of the Guayabero River, a traditional FARC stronghold, and at least three children who were caught in one Army attack have been hospitalised.
According to accounts provided by local people to human rights organisations, the soldiers involved are attached to the 64th Battalion of the 7th Mobile Brigade of the Colombian Army who arrived in the area around the villages of Puerto Cachicamo and Girasoles on February 11th. At 9am that morning the soldiers opened fire near the 'Santa Helena' school shooting two children (12-year-old Jhonier Estiven Arco Lopez, 12-year-old Everney Forero Suarez) and wounding another with shrapnel (13-year-old Andrea Johana Atehortua Zapata) before spending several hours harassing and intimidating residents and accusing them of providing support to local guerrilla units.
In subsequent days the soldiers repeatedly threatened locals and told them that a paramilitary death squad was on its way to "deal with them" and on February 17th a large group of paramilitaries was spotted near to Grisales village. The paramilitaries allegedly made clear that they were on their way to Puerto Cachicamo which in turn led to numerous people fleeing from their homes in fear for their lives.
According to human rights groups soldiers in the area are using civilians as human shields during combat with the FARC, have established camps in villages and intentionally contaminated drinking water. A human rights commission that visited the area on February 17th heard how the soldiers and paramilitaries were clearly operating in coordination and how the officers responsible for the situation were Colonel Wilson Chavez and Major Elkin Argote – both attached to the 7th Mobile Brigade which has a long history of human rights violations (see, for example, here and here).
Recent testimony from paramilitary commanders who have surrendered and agreed to reveal what they know in return for reduced sentences have led to several revelations about the degree of collaboration between the Army and the death squads. Recent testimony has included:
• The April 2009 affidavit from former regional paramilitary commander Freddy Rendon that he had always felt like just another member of Colombia's security forces and that his men never had any problems at Army checkpoints and were treated just like any other soldiers.
• The November 2008 affidavit from former national paramilitary commander Salvatore Mancuso in which he explained that General Carlos Ospina, commander of the Armed Forces between 2004 and 2007, had supported paramilitary operations, delivered ammunition to them and arranged for paramilitary casualties to be evacuated.
• The October 2008 affidavit from former regional paramilitary commander Miguel Angel Mejia in which he explained how the Colombian Air Force had supported his paramilitary death squad in fighting with the FARC. Mejia explained that on at least two occasions when the FARC attacked his men, K-fir ground attack aircraft and helicopter gunships came to their aid and repelled the guerrillas (see here for more).
• The October 2008 affidavit from former regional paramilitary commander Ramon Isaza that the Army's 4th Brigade had supplied him with a list of 70 individuals that they wanted assassinated.
• The August 2008 affidavit from former mid-level paramilitary commander Luis Adrian Palacio in which he explained how General Mario Montoya, commander of the Army between 2006 and 2008, had supplied a truck full of weapons to a paramilitary unit in the region of Antioquia.
However, much of the testimony has now ended after Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ordered the extradition to the United States of most of those that were speaking out – in what critics have described as a move to silence them. Organisations representing the tens of thousands of victims of the death squads also complain that the chances of receiving justice and establishing the truth as to the links between the State and the paramilitaries are now slim as many of the top paramilitary commanders that were revealing what they knew are now being held in isolation in high security prisons in the US.
April 2008, Army & Paramilitaries Implicated in New Killing