BOGOTA (AP) - Hundreds of innocent civilians have been slain by
Colombian soldiers and falsely identified as guerrillas killed in
combat as part of a "more or less" systematic practice by
"significant elements" of the military, a U.N. human rights
investigator said Thursday.
After a 10-day visit interviewing more than 100 witnesses and
survivors, special envoy Philip Alston told reporters he found
nothing to indicate that such extra-judicial killings were state
policy or that President Alvaro Uribe and his defense ministers
knew of them.
However, the Australian investigator said it was
"unsustainable" for officials in Uribe's government to argue that
the killings were carried out "on a small scale by a few bad
apples." The vast majority of the slayings occurred after Uribe's
Colombia's government, which under Uribe has put leftist rebels
on the defensive and seriously curbed kidnapping and murder with
the help of more than $4 billion in U.S. aid, said it would respond
Alston said he would issue a full report in four to five months.
Criticizing what he called too few successful prosecutions of
extrajudicial killings, Alston said Colombia needs more human
rights prosecutors and complained that military judges have tried
to "thwart the transfer of clear human rights cases" to the
ordinary justice system.
He characterized as "blatant and obscene" the most highly
publicized case - at least 11 young men lured from the poor Bogota
suburb of Soacha early last year with promises of work only to be
found dead hundreds of miles away depicted as dead rebels.
Alston called that case the "tip of the iceberg" in a practice
of "cold-blooded, premeditated murder of innocent civilians for
profit" that involved "a significant number of military units"
in nearly half of Colombia's states.
He said he had asked the Defense Ministry if soldiers were
rewarded for boosting body counts with the killings and was
awaiting a response.
But he said there was some good news: a "significant
reduction" - he was not more specific - in allegations of
extrajudicial executions over the past six to nine months.
Uribe fired 20 officers - including three generals - for
negligence last October after details of the Soacha killings
emerged. The army chief, Gen. Mario Montoya, resigned the next
Alston said such killings have disproportionately affected the
rural poor, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, trade unionists,
human rights activists and community leaders. Victims included
"boys of 16-17, a young man with a mental age of nine, a devoted
family man with two in-laws in active military service, and a young
soldier home on leave," he said.
He cited cases of supposed dead guerrillas "wearing clean
jungle boots which are four sizes too big for them, or left-handers
holding guns in their right hand."
At least two colonels are among more than 50 cashiered soldiers
jailed in extra-judicial killings on charges including kidnapping,
murder and forced disappearance, according to prosecutors.
The chief prosecutor's office is investigating the alleged
slayings of 1,708 innocent people, including the Soacha victims,
over the past six years.
Before Colombia, Alston's most recent country visit was to Kenya
in February. Appointed a U.N. special investigator of such killings
in 2004, he visited the United States, Afghanistan and the Central
African Republic last year.