UK Government Raises Concerns of Army Links to Paramilitary Death Squads in Colombia
News from Colombia |
on: Friday, 5 November 2010
The British Foreign Office yesterday confirmed that the UK’s Embassy in Bogota has raised concerns with the Colombian authorities about ongoing collaboration between members of the Colombian Army and illegal paramilitary death squads. The concerns were expressed after a visit last month by UK diplomats to the ‘peace community’ of San Jose de Apartado. During the visit residents complained of the ongoing partnership between soldiers and paramilitaries in the region.
Inhabitants of San Jose have long accused the Colombian Army – and in particular the 17th Brigade – of working closely with the paramilitaries to murder and threaten people. Numerous allegations have been made that the death squads patrol jointly with soldiers, share equipment and intelligence, and carry out massacres and selective assassinations together.
The ‘peace community’ was declared a decade ago when residents, backed by local priests and human rights NGOs, declared that they were neutral in the Colombian conflict and did not want armed actors, including the state security forces, entering their land or villages. Since that time the community has been besieged, hundreds of local people have been murdered and the authorities have regularly accused leaders of the peace community of working with leftwing FARC rebels.
The villages that make up the peace community are located in the Colombian region of Uraba where paramilitaries have a strong presence and control vast tracts of agricultural land. Much of the land has allegedly been stolen from peasant farmers who have been forced to flee the region by the death squads.
Recent efforts to reclaim the land and return it to its rightful owners have been met with brutal violence and last week saw an assassination attempt against one of those involved in legal efforts to have the land returned. Fernando Enamorado, leader of the Association of Victims of Uraba, was shot several times outside his home on the evening of October 25th by men on motorbikes, but survived and is currently recovering in hospital in the city of Medellin. He had been forced to flee the region six months ago and had only returned to Apartado municipality three days before.
In September, Hernando Perez, another activist working to help reclaim land stolen by the paramilitaries in Uraba was assassinated shortly after a meeting with the Colombian Minister of Agriculture, whilst in May another colleague, Albeiro Valdez, was also killed. In a statement the Association of Victims of Uraba described how “every time we try to use the law to get back our land, the way the law says we should, they respond like this; trying to kill us.”