Thu, Oct 30, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Amnesty questions Uribe’s peace claim

CONFLICTAn Amnesty official said that millions of civilians continue to live under fear in a country plagued by extrajudicial executions, abductions and displacement

AP , BOGOTA

Amnesty International on Tuesday urged the US and other nations on Tuesday to halt military aid to Colombia until security forces reduce killings of civilians and the country heeds UN recommendations for ending its civil conflict.

In a 94-page report, the international human rights group questioned Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s claims that Colombia “is experiencing an irreversible renaissance of relative peace” and “rapidly falling levels of violence.”

Amnesty acknowledges that kidnappings and conflict-related killings of civilians have decreased since Uribe first took office in 2002, and some major cities are safer. But the report says that’s only part of the picture.

“Colombia remains a country where millions of civilians, especially outside the big cities and in the countryside, continue to bear the brunt of this violent and protracted conflict,” the report says, adding that “impunity remains the norm in most cases of human rights abuses.”

The Colombian vice president’s office, which oversees human rights matters, had no immediate comment on the Amnesty report.

However, on Monday evening, Uribe called on the military to “completely eradicate whatever perverse notion might remain in any member of the armed forces who is not committed to absolutely respect human rights.”

He made the comments as the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay of South Africa arrived for a weeklong visit.

On Friday, three colonels were fired over the mysterious disappearance of 11 noncombatants from a Bogota suburb. The bodies were later found hundreds of kilometers away in common graves in a war zone.

Amnesty’s director for the Americas Renata Rendon said many disturbing indicators were now trending upward in Colombia.

“Conflict-related killings, extrajudicial executions, killings of civilians by paramilitaries [and] by guerrillas, enforced disappearances, abductions by guerrillas, forced displacement, killings of women, enforced disappearance of women and killings of trade unionists have all gone up from 2006 to 2007,” she said in a telephone interview from Washington.

Those indicators should not be ignored, she said, as the administration of US President George W. Bush continues to push US lawmakers to ratify a free-trade agreement with Colombia.

The Democratic leadership in Congress has resisted, citing continued killings of Colombian labor organizers.

The US Department of State thinks Colombia has made “notable progress” in the past decade in improving human rights but “more needs to be done,” spokeswoman Heide Bronke said.

She said the State Department is concerned about reports of extrajudicial killings by Colombia’s security forces and supports programs that seek to effectively investigate and prosecute rights abuses.

Colombia is Washington’s staunchest ally in Latin America and has received more than US$4 billion in mostly military aid from the US during Uribe’s tenure.

The Amnesty report also said that despite Uribe’s claim that demobilization put an end to far-right militias blamed for thousands of killings, evidence is strong that the paramilitaries remain active and continue to commit rights violations.

It further said that the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia has over the past year been creating “strategic alliances” with paramilitaries in several regions as both groups seek “to better manage” their chief funding source: cocaine trafficking.

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