Colombia: threats mount against victim reps

Victim representatives at peace talks with the FARC rebels held a press conference in Bogotá Feb. 20 to demand action from the Colombian government over mounting death threats against them. At least 14 of the 60 representatives have received death threats because of their participation—and the son of one representative was killed. Nilson Liz, a regional leader of the National Association of Campesino Land Users (ANUC) from Cauca department, said that following his trip to Cuba for the talks, unknown assailants murdered his son Dayan on Jan. 1. ANUC, which is seeking return of lands stolen by armed groups, has had 90 leaders assassinated since its founding in 1970. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 21; Semana, Feb. 20)

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos on Feb. 21 praised the United States for appointing former State Department official Bernie Aronson as special envoy to peace talks. Santos noted that Aronson "has experiences in peace negotiations because he directly took part in the peace talks in El Salvador" that ended with an accord in 1992. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 21)

US missionary Martin Stendhal, who was detained on Feb. 18 on charges of collaboration with the FARC, was been released two days later after a judge ruled there was not enough evidence to merit a criminal investigation. Police said Stendal, who lives in Colombia, had traveled to Cuba and Panama as a messenger for the guerillas. The allegations were allegedly made by FARC rebel Dumar Yepes Hurtado AKA "Samuel Carrillo," who is said to have stated that Stendal provided computers and other equipment for the FARC radio station at Puerto Lleras, Meta department. Colombian prosecutor Carlos Manuel Silva accused Stendal of "a starring role" in a "terrorist support network whose work consisted in setting up portable radio stations that were used to spread terrorist propaganda."

David Witt, head of Spirit of Martyrdom ministries, which has funded Stendal’'s work, said the preacher has routinely taken great risks for years. "We like to describe him as the Christian Indiana Jones. He risks his life on a daily basis for the help of the Colombian people." By his own account, Stendal has been abducted by guerillas five times and right-wing paramilitaries three times, and was once before jailed by the government. The longest Stendal was held was five months, by rebels in 1983, Witt said. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 20)