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25 People a Week Go Missing

Colombia’s Disappeared:

by Alfredo Castro

Bogota. The number of people being forcibly disappeared in Colombia each year is rapidly increasing and according to a local human rights organisation state sponsored forces, both official and unofficial, are responsible for over 99% of the cases.

New statistics released by the Colombian Association of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared — known as ASFADDES — show that last year some 1,283 people were taken away and have not been seen since. ASFADDES says that three of these people were disappeared by rebel groups while the remainder of the cases can be blamed predominantly on paramilitary and other state agents such as the army and police.

The average daily rate of disappearances in Colombia has increased from three to four over the past few years according to Gladys Avila Fonseca, the national coordinator of ASFADDES. Avila herself lost her brother Eduardo when he disappeared off a street in Bogota on April 20th 1993. Four days later, however, he was found dead outside the city having been severely tortured and since then she has dedicated her life to the cause of truth, justice and reparation at ASFADDES.

The statistics ASFADDES released show that between 1994 and 2001 there were 3,413 forced disappearances in Colombia. Gladys Avila also explained that ASFADDES has no way of knowing the true number of cases as their statistics only include those instances in which the family or friends of the victim denounce the crime, and that on many occasions, because of fear of reprisals, people stay silent.

ASFADDES also released details of the recent disappearance of Alvaro Sanchez Rojas on the outskirts of Bogota whom witnesses say was taken away by a group made up of paramilitaries and members of the "Rincon Quinonez" Battalion of the Colombian Army.

Regarding the problem of forced displacement a second local NGO, the Colombian Commission of Jurists, announced that the numbers now being forced from their land in Colombia had increased to approximately 1,000 people per day. Experts say that the phenomenon is largely caused by counterinsurgency strategies — devised by the Pentagon in Vietnam and now implemented in Colombia — that call for people to be forcibly shifted from rural areas in an attempt to deprive guerrilla organisations of civilian support networks in the countryside.

According to the director of the Commission, Gustavo Gallon, "the increase in numbers and the territorial expansion of the problem of displacement during the Pastrana [the Colombian President] administration has been massive, with more than 1 million people being forced from their homes and land during his time in power — including 90,000 in the first few months of this year alone".

This article originally appeared in ANNCOL, the news agency of the new Colombia.