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Colombia: Army Scandal Continues to Grow

Highlights – Recent investigations into the deaths of 11 civilians leads to firing of 27 officers – Army commander resigns over possible involvement in extrajudicial killings – President Uribe’s administration likely to lose additional international aid until investigations are completed In recent weeks, a number of allegations from both internal Colombian sources and international groups have surfaced regarding the Colombian military’s potential involvement in extrajudicial killings. In the midst of the building scandal, 27 army officers have been fired, and the commander of the army has resigned. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is facing increasing pressure to support internal investigations into the claim, as crucial funding from the United States (US) requires human rights abuse allegations to be examined. In the near-term, President Uribe will likely attempt to distance himself from any officers with proven involvement in the murders, as well as work to reassure US officials of continued cooperation in anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism campaigns. Investigations Begin In late-October 2008, human rights group Amnesty International released a report that the Colombian military executed 330 civilians, up from 220 per year between 2004 and 2006, 130 in 2003 and 100 in 2002. The report highlighted a pattern of killings in which civilians are detained, executed then dressed in fatigues so they can later be portrayed as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerilla group. A statement from the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission followed the report’s release and came to the same conclusion. More detailed results of the UN’s findings are expected in the near-term. On October 30, 2008, 27 officers and soldiers, including three generals, were dismissed from the army in connection with the deaths of 11 civilians. The 11 young male victims disappeared from their homes in the southern Bogota suburb of Soacha in early 2008, after being allegedly recruited by men promising them employment. Their bodies were discovered a few days later in the northern city of Ocana, the site of frequent clashes between FARC and military forces, and sources claimed the men were FARC rebels. Troops had classified the men as “subversives” and deposited their bodies in unmarked graves. High-Profile Resignation Following the increased investigations, the commander of Colombia’s army forces, General Mario Montoya, announced his resignation on November 4, 2008. The investigations have tied “dozens” of military personnel under his leadership to killings in attempts to inflate the body count of FARC rebels. General Montoya had largely enjoyed personal support from President Uribe, as he had been the commander of forces earlier this decade in the president’s home province of Antioquia. Montoya has already faced scrutiny in connection with right-wing paramilitary groups that operate in the countryside. These groups, classified by the US as terrorist organizations, allegedly participated in joint operations with military forces in 2002 to eliminate FARC members from the area of Medellin. A former paramilitary combatant testified that Montoya was involved in the cover-up of a similar incident in March 2002, during which five civilians were reportedly executed then dressed to appear as FARC combatants for local media coverage. During his resignation announcement on November 4th, Montoya did not refer to specific incidents, but urged the Colombia government to ensure officials implicated in the scandals had the right to defend themselves. Pressure for President Uribe’s Administration At the announcement of the 27 firings, President Uribe stated, “there may be members of the armed forces involved in murder and in failings of protocols and oversight.” Prosecutors refer to these cases as “false positives” and are likely used to bolster figures of FARC rebels killed. President Uribe has prioritized the targeting of

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