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Bloodbath in Colombia The Army and the Paramilitary Death Squads

Bloodbath in Colombia

by ALFREDO CASTRO

A series of joint operations by the Colombian army and right-wing paramilitary death squads have resulted in scores of civilians being killed. Whilst the Colombian government claims that they are working to cut the links between state security forces and illegal paramilitaries human rights organisations say that the reality on the ground proves otherwise.

In the most recent example of collaboration between the Colombian army and right-wing death squads at least eight civilians have been killed in a brutal massacre carried out by a joint unit of paramilitaries and soldiers. Such operations are not unusual although, according to human rights organisations, the relationship between the two forces appears to be getting stronger.

In the most recent case, on June 15th, soldiers attached to the 3rd Brigade of the Colombian army and paramilitaries of the notorious ‘Bloque Calima’ simultaneously entered the community of Zabaletas in the municipality of Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca department. The troops proceeded to massacre Julio Vallejo Montoya, Luz Matilde Rentería, Walberto Riascos, Ledy Valencia, Jonier Valencia and Angel Valencia, all unarmed civilians whom they accused of being sympathetic towards the FARC rebel organisation. Many other civilians, including Elvira Vallecilla, Juan Valencia, Luz Mery Ibargüen, Teodoro Valencia and Henry Arboleda were beaten, shot or attacked with knives during the incursion.

According to Washington-based Human Rights Watch, the 3rd Brigade of the army set up the so-called ‘Bloque Calima’ paramilitary unit some years ago and local investigators report that they have been jointly responsible for thousands of assassinations and disappearances since then. The senior officer responsible for organising, arming and financing the death squad was General Jaime Ernesto Canal, now a member of the Colombian Congress and a strong supporter of President Uribe Velez–himself suspected of links to the death squads.

In an interview last week Marta Altolaguirre, the President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organisation of American States (OAS), pointed out that links between the armed forces and the paramilitaries continue and other international organisations, such as Amnesty International, have also recently reported on the worrying increase in the scope and frequency of joint military/paramilitary operations. Last month Amnesty also reported on the "direct involvement by the security forces in serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, ‘disappearances’ and killings"

Other recent reports have documented how a large paramilitary death squad is operating with Colombian army battalions in the region between Bolivar and Antioquia departments. According to locals this combined unit has been terrorising civilians, murdering community leaders and massacring peasant farmers.

The more serious abuses perpetrated in the region include:

* June 9th, the assassination of a 69-year-old woman in the community of Aguas Blancas in San Pablo municipality,

* June 6th, the massacre of four farmers (including Ligia Cardona, Reynaldo Canchila and Víctor Carreritas) accused of sympathising with rebels in the community of Canaveral in Sergovia municipality–where soldiers and death squad members also set fire to numerous homes and farms forcibly displacing hundreds of civilians.

* May 25th, the torture and murder of the leader of the community of Santa Marta de Remedios in northeast Antioquia.

ALFREDO CASTRO writes about Colombian politics for Anncol.