Risk Intel Report

UN urges Colombia to break paramilitary ties

The United Nations is calling on Colombia to disavow the right-wing Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) umbrella paramilitary organization. This is not the first time that an organization has called for the cessation of support by Colombia for the AUC. Human rights groups have been calling for it for some time. The AUC armies were started by wealthy, private landowners in the 1980s as protection rackets from the leftist Marxist ELN and FARC rebels. While there is some rationale to allowing rival terrorist organizations fight themselves to death, the government has lost its reigns on the groups and now finds itself with three rival groups vying for power and land in gruesome warfare that has cost the lives of thousands of innocent civilians. Since its founding, the group has evolved into a “drug-financed death squad,” according to Newsweek, that controls nearly 40 percent of the country’s $3.5 billion drug trade. President Alvaro Uribe commissioned a study in 2003 into negotiating with the AUC that found that the group sought to protect its drug trade and to gain political legitimacy. According to the Toronto Star, the AUC is active in 26 of 32 departments and in more than 1/3 of Colombia’s municipalities. Further, Newsweek, reported that 1/3 of Colombia’s congressmen support the AUC, and more may come into the fold after the March 2006 legislative elections. President Uribe, a right-wing politician, and the AUC signed a peace and demobilization agreement in July 2003 that is slated to end in December 2005 with the elimination of the AUC as a group. Some 4,000 AUC fighters have demobilized since 2003. This number, however, is misleading, as most of the fighters are sickly or old; the energized youth remain fully mobilized and armed. Colombia is the most politically stable democracies in Latin America and a key ally of the US. If the government provides safe haven and protection to the AUC in its effort to combat the leftist groups, then any effort to quash the AUC and bring its members to justice must be done with utmost delicacy so as not to destabilize the entire Colombian government but yet bring to justice any government representatives who have condoned or been complicit in AUC terror. As government consideration for the AUC is widely believed, families of paramilitary victims rarely report or testify, fearing not only retribution from the AUC but retribution from the government and the military as well. If true, the Colombian government must answer for its complicity ? in, at least, its support of the AUC — in atrocities. However, the AUC has been accused of massacres, targeted assassinations, kidnappings, forced displacement, among other charges, of Colombians, presumably to include union members, human rights workers, and others seen as a threat to the AUC or the government. These killings have also included peasants thought to be sympathetic with rival causes. The International Federation of Human Rights (IFHR) reported that AUC soldiers allegedly “closely allied with the US-backed Colombian military” have committed 2,000 “individual human rights violations since [December] 2002.” Further, paramilitaries have killed over 14,000 labor leaders and human rights workers in 15 years; few have been prosecuted for any of the killings. Most of the extra-judicial killings will never be documented or fully known. The country is now home to over two million displaced persons: second in the world only to Africa. The government has called for the prosecution of anyone supporting the AUC, which the US lists as a foreign terrorist organization and has extradition orders for six AUC warlords who are among Colombia’s top drug smugglers and who may be

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