Colombia: Supreme Court approves new probe of para-linked general

Colombia's Supreme Court approved a request by the Fiscalía (attorney general's office) to reopen the investigation of former army general Rito Alejo del Rio, who is suspected of having collaborated with illegal paramilitaries. The Fiscalía asked for the reopening after testimony by several demobilized paramilitaries linked the retired general to the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Hebert Velosa, Salvatore Mancuso, Jorge Ivan Laverde and Elkin Casarrubia are among those who testified on del Rio's ties to the AUC.

Del Rio is suspected of having allowed paramilitaries to kill dozens of innocent civilians when he was commanding the army's 17th Brigade in the 1990's. Attorney for the victims Jorge Molano, says he is petitioning the Fiscalía to re-examine del Rio's ties to the infamous Mapiripán massacre. He has never been convicted, but is now being held by the army's 13th Brigade in Bogotá. (Colombia Reports, ColPrensa, March 11)

In the July 15, 1997 massacre at Mapiripán, over 100 paramilitary fighters from the Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá (ACCU) arrived at the riverfront market town in southern Meta department and occupied it for five days, publicly torturing and mutilating several residents before killing them and throwing their bodies in the Rio Guaviare. Many had come through a military-controlled airport upriver, where they arrived on two airplanes chartered from a paramilitary stronghold in Antioquia department, whose governor at the time was now-President Álvaro Uribe. Residents appealed for help, but none came—despite the presence of a military base just two hours away. Because the bodies were thrown in the river, a reliable death count has never been arrived at, with estimates ranging from 30 to 70. In 2007, three people, including a retired army colonel, were sentenced to 40 years for their role in the massacre. Cases against higher-ranking officers have languished. (Nuestra TeleNoticies, Colombia, Oct. 23, 2007; CIP Colombia Program, July 15, 2007)

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