Army and Paramilitary Abuses Strike Fear into Civilian Population of Cauca
News from Colombia |
on: Monday, 16 May 2011
Human rights groups in Cauca department have reported a series of abuses committed by the Colombian army in Argelia and Miranda regions between the 23rd April and the 6th May 2011. They accuse the armed forces of intimidating and threatening local people, and of working alongside paramilitary groups.
On the morning of 23rd of April troops stopped a young couple riding a motorbike near the settlement of Monte Redondo, near Miranda. The troops from the Agustin Codazzi Engineers Battalion forced the young man off the road at gunpoint, with rifles pointed at his head and his back. Once away from the road three hooded figures appeared, and the young peasant was forced to undress whilst they addressed him by an unknown name. The army Lieutenant in charge ordered him to surrender, told him that they knew who he was and that they would give him money if he told them who the guerrilla sympathisers in the village were.
The troops then received a phone call, telling the caller they had found a grenade on the youth, and that if he did not ‘sing’ they would finish him off. The Lieutenant told the peasant to start digging his grave. At this point local residents appeared nearby and the troops ordered the young man to get dressed and released him.
A few days later, in nearby Argelia, Colombian army troops of the Hilario Lopez infantry battalion carried out a search operation. Among the troops locals identified a man who had been in the area in late 2010 working with the ‘Rastrojo’ paramilitary group. The man had threatened and accused locals of being guerrillas and had also been involved in blackmailing inhabitants. The presence of a paramilitary working alongside the armed forces has raised concerns that social organisations and local people are now going to be targeted.
In the same area troops from the 4th High Mountain Battalion set up observation posts and billeted themselves in local schools and civilian homes for several days between the 2nd and 6th of May. In the settlement of Bamboleo they even took over the local health centre. Human rights groups have stated that these actions which violate international humanitarian law, expose civilian lives and property to risk from guerrilla attacks against the military.
Meanwhile, in nearby Miranda, troops fired on a group of young men who had been ordered to head in their direction by police. The troops challenged the young men, who called out that they were civilians. The soldiers opened automatic fire, hitting one of the young men in the leg, and spraying local houses with gunfire. Before leaving the area the troops collected the spent cartridge cases to conceal the evidence.
Local human rights organisations report that these events have struck fear into peasant communities in the region, and demonstrate that the armed forces continue to operate alongside paramilitaries. They are calling upon international bodies to increase their oversight of the Colombian armed forces, and upon local and national government to fulfil its obligations under international law.