Wed, Oct 13, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Colombian officer guilty of power saw murders


A former Colombian army officer was sentenced on Monday to 44 years in prison for his role in the deaths of more than 245 civilians, many of whom were hacked to pieces with a power saw, officials said.

Major Alirio Antonio Urena received the sentence for killings systematically carried out against the local population in the town of Trujillo between 1986 and 1994.

At the time, Urena was the commander of an army brigade in Valle de Cauca State with ties to right-wing paramilitaries that were said to be responsible for the systematic assassinations of people in Trujillo, prosecutors said.

The victims of the killings were accused of collaborating with left-wing rebels.

The paramilitaries, who also are said to have close ties with drug traffickers, used power saws to dismember many of their victims. The dead included Tiberio Fernandez, a popular Catholic priest and political organizer whose body was found castrated and decapitated in the Cauca River.

Monday’s verdict was the first by the Colombian justice system in the notorious case, which was reopened in 1991 after justice officials had originally absolved Urena and his codefendants.

In a separate case, seven soldiers were found guilty in connection with the abduction and murder of a man who they falsely claimed was a member of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The trial in the city of Villavicencio, 95km south of Bogota, found strong evidence against a major, a lieutenant and five other soldiers involved in the incident, which occurred in July 2007.

According to prosecutors, the soldiers abducted Eduardo Perez and took him to the town of Hato Corozal northeast of Bogota before shooting and killing him. They subsequently said he was a member of the FARC. Investigators later determined that Perez did not belong to the rebels, and filed charges of aggravated murder and kidnapping.

Sentencing was set for Nov. 22 for the soldiers, who were led by Major Gustavo Soto and Lieutenant John Suancha. Soto was the head of an anti-kidnapping unit.

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