Colombia: land rights activist assassinated

A Colombian activist for restitution of usurped lands who was supposedly under special government protection was killed April 9. Colombia's official human rights ombudsman said Jesús Adán Quinto—who had previously reported that agents assigned to protect him had failed to show up—was killed by sicarios (hitmen) as he stepped outisde his home at Turbo in Urabá region of Antioquia department. Quinto was a leader of the displaced population from Cacarica (Riosucio muncipality, Chocó department), a self-declared "peace community" where the Afro-Colombian campesinos have been massively targetted by paramilitary forces since announcing their non-cooperation with all armed actors in 1999. Quinto's fellow activist Carmen Palencia told AFP news service that the people now occupying the lands of the displaced are hiring assassins to terrorize those those who demand return of usurped properties. She said there have been 70 people associated the peace community killed in similar circumstances since 2005. The violence-torn region of Urabá straddles the north of Antioquia and Chocó departments. (AFP, El Espectador, Justicia y Paz Colombia, April 9)

Colombia: cops seize ton of para cocaine

Colombia's National Police announced Jan. 24 the seizure of 1.2 tons of cocaine allegedly belonging to paramilitary group Los Urabeños in the northwestern department of Córdoba. The find came when police searched a truck at a checkpoint that had been established in Montería municipality. The interception was reportedly planned by police intelligence in advance. The two truck occupants who were arrested apparently tried to bribe the officers with $150,000. The agents also confiscated 6,800 gallons of biodiesel and 3,400 gallons of gasoline, worth around $30,000. The cocaine was reportedly en route to the port of Turbo in Urabá region, the Urabeños' heartland in the northern part of Antioquia department, and was intended for export to the US and Europe. The Urabeños are a "neo-paramilitary" group that remained in arms after the ultra-right paramilitary network was officially "demobilized" some 10 years ago. Authorities now consider the Urabeños Colombia's most powerful drug trafficking organization. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 24)

Colombia: Embera indigenous leaders assassinated

Rights groups warn that Embera Chamí indigenous leader Flaminio Onogama Gutiérrez is at risk following the killing of his two nephews in southwestern Colombia. On Jan. 1, Berlain Saigama Gutiérrez and Jhon Braulio Saigama, themselves leaders at the Embera Chamí community of La Esperanza, El Dovio municipality, Valle del Cauca, were found stabbed to death. The bodies were discovered with multiple wounds and signs of torture in different places from where they had been abducted on Dec. 30 and 31. The presumed paramilitary gunmen who seized them first demanded to know the whereabouts of Onogama Gutiérrez. (Amnesty International, Jan. 17) A sample letter to send to Colombian authorities demanding action in the case is online at I Save Lives.

Colombia: peace talks advance amid violence

"Pablo Catatumbo," commander of the FARC guerillas' feared Western Bloc, was picked up by a Red Cross helicopter in Colombia's southwestern town of Palmira April 6 to join fellow guerrilla leaders who are in Cuba meeting with the government to negotiate peace, according to local media. Neither the government nor the FARC have either confirmed or denied Catatumbo's trip. With the arrival of Catatumbo, the FARC delegation in Havana now includes three of the guerillas' seven-man secretariat. To allow the safe arrival of Catatumbo and five other rebel leaders in Palmira, the army temporarily suspended military operations in the department of Valle de Cauca, military intelligence sources told Caracol Radio. (Vanguardia Liberal, Bucaramanga, April 7; Colombia Reports, RCN Radio, April 6)

Colombia: tribunal rules for Peace Community

The Administrative Tribunal of Colombia's Antioquia department on Feb. 8 ordered the national army to hold a public ceremony officially apologizing for the massacre at San José de Apartadó Peace Community, almost exactly eight years after it was carried out. In the Feb. 21, 2005 attack, six adults and two children were killed at the village in Apartadó municipality of Antioquia's northern Urabá region, where residents had declared their non-cooperation with all armed actors in Colombia's civil conflict.

Colombia: ICC 'false positive' probe advances

On Nov. 15, the International Criminal Court (ICC) gave Colombia a clear warning that the Court expects accountability at the senior level for serious crimes that fall under its jurisdiction, or else it may pursue a formal investigation. The warning came in the first interim examination report ever issued by the Court's Prosecutor Office. Colombia joined the ICC in November 2002 and is one of only eight countries formally under ICC examination. The others are Honduras, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Georgia, Guinea, North Korea and Mali.

Colombia: army general gets 25 years for para collaboration

A retired Colombian army general accused by prosecutors of forming a "macabre alliance" with illegal paramilitary groups was sentenced to 25 years in prison Aug. 24 in connection with the 1997 murder of a peasant leader. The sentencing of former general Rito Alejo del Río Rojas brings closure to a case that has long languished in the Colombian justice system and focuses renewed attention on the collaboration between top military officers and paramilitaries affiliated with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Colombia: San José de Apartadó Peace Community under attack again

The San José de Apartadó Peace Community in Colombia's northern Urabá region, one of several citizen peace initiatives by local communities demanding their right not to take sides in the war, is once again under threat—seven years after a massacre that forced many residents to flee the village. Several outlying hamlets (veredas) continue to adhere to the Peace Community, and their leaders are now facing escalated harassment. On July 30 and 31, Germán Graciano, a Peace Community leader, received phone calls from men who identified themselves as members of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a paramilitary group. The callers demanded he agree to collaborate with them, or "purchase coffins for himself and his family."

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