Colombia: video sparks call for probe of Uribe paramilitary links

A lawyer for the United Steelworkers has asked the US State Department to investigate infiltration by Colombia's illegal paramilitaries into President Alvaro Uribe's first electoral campaign, based on a video showing then-candidate Uribe meeting with a group that included a man identified as Frenio Sánchez Carreño, leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the violence-torn city of Barrancabermeja.

The video, a copy of which was obtained by El Nuevo Herald of Miami, does not make clear that Uribe was aware one of the men at the meeting was a paramilitary leader. It appears to be a campaign event, and the dozen or so other participants identify themselves as Barrancabermeja civic leaders. The images and date on the video indicate the meeting was held Oct. 31, 2001, during a campaign stop in Puerto Berrío, outside Barrancabermeja. The man identified as Sánchez does not speak on the video. Sánchez, also known as "Comandante Esteban," was arrested last month, on charges of ordering some 80 murders in the previous two years.

Uribe spokesman César Mauricio Velásquez, shown a still photograph taken from the video, replied by e-mail that "the president does not comment on or explain each of the millions of photos and hours of video such as the ones you refer to... If you have any concrete accusation against the president for complicity with criminals, I beg you to make it formally. Otherwise, I beg you to abstain from making malevolent insinuations."

"This video raises grave concerns about the interconnection between the AUC and the Uribe campaign, and quite possibly, the current Uribe administration," United Steelworkers attorney Daniel Kovalik wrote in his letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "It stands to reason that Mr. Uribe must have known that he was meeting with members of the AUC, including 'Comandante Esteban,' given his broad notoriety."

Kovalik represents relatives of three employees of the Alabama-based Drummond coal company murdered by paramilitaries in 2001. The relatives have filed a civil lawsuit, alleging Drummond had links to paramilitaries. In his letter, Kovalik wrote that he obtained the video during his investigation for the lawsuit, but could not reveal the source for reasons of safety. (El Nuevo Herald, June 14)

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