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Human Rights Group Too Negative, Colombia Says

by Yadira Ferrer

on Colombia
(IPS) BOGOTA -- Colombian authorities are complaining loudly over the latest Amnesty International report which cites on-going abuses of civilians by paramilitary groups.

Interior Minister Armando Estada said he was not surprised that in its Annual Report 2001, released May 30, the London-based rights watchdog blamed the paramilitaries for the lion's share of human rights violations in Colombia.

But he lamented that the rights group had "ignored the advances made by the military" in fighting the right-wing militias that are linked in the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

The government of Andres Pastrana "is aware that the paramilitaries are the main generators of violence in the country," said the minister, who underlined that "the government, the attorney-general's office and the security bodies have a clear commitment" to putting an end to the AUC's activities.

Estada pointed out that authorities were investigating bank accounts that would apparently confirm financing of the AUC by suspected landowners. He also highlighted that the members of the paramilitary group allegedly responsible for the April killings of some 40 peasant farmers and indigenous people in Alto Naya in southeastern Colombia had been captured.

300 forced disappearances and 1,500 kidnappings in Y2000
Some analysts say the supposed announcement by AUC chief Carlos Castano that he was resigning was the consequence of the blows received in the past few days by the paramilitary umbrella grouping, which has 10,000 armed members.

Posted on the AUC web page is an announcement by Castano that he is resigning, and that he respected the institutions of the state. The authenticity of the message, however, has not yet been confirmed by government intelligence services.

The paramilitary chief is held responsible for a number of massacres, and is accused of ordering the assassinations of popular humorist Jaime Garzon last year, and of two leftist political leaders, Bernardo Jaramillo and Carlos Pizarro, in 1990.

Peasant farmers and children are the groups that have suffered the most from human rights violations in the past year, according to the report that Amnesty International released at its London and Washington offices to commemorate its 40th anniversary.

The human rights lobby also expressed its concern over ongoing collaboration between agents of the state and the paramilitaries, but it underscored the progress of judicial investigations into such cases.

Army commander General Nestor Ramirez, meanwhile, blamed the allegations of ties between the army and the AUC on "the legal and political war waged against the armed forces" by organizations that are "keen on discrediting and minimizing the successful actions" of the security forces.

Amnesty's report also held the paramilitaries and leftist guerrilla groups responsible for around 300 forced disappearances and 1,500 kidnappings committed last year.

The armed forces, their supposed paramilitary allies and the rebel groups are blamed for the nearly 30,000 politically-motivated killings committed in Colombia over the past 10 years.

Hector Garcia, an analyst at the National University, told IPS that the report pointed to "a decline in Colombia's human rights record" that was already considered low by various international groups.

Ana Bernal, the director of the Network of Initiatives for Peace, made up of 30 local non-governmental organizations, attributed the country's critical situation in the human rights arena to the dearth of specific government policies aimed at protecting citizens.

Bernal urged the armed groups and the government to negotiate a humanitarian accord "that protects civilians from the indiscriminate attacks" of which they are the victims.

Colombia's human rights crisis has been criticized this year in international reports issued by the U.S. State Department, the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, and the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

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Albion Monitor June 4, 2001 (

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