Colombian military implicated in Bogotá blasts

Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe took over the country's airwaves Sept. 10 to defend the military against reports soldiers were behind a string of bombings in the capital, Bogota. In a live half-hour speech during prime-time on all the major networks, he also called for an investigation into how the press came by the reports. "It has still not been proved that there was any participation by the soldiers in the attacks," Uribe said.

On Sept. 8, the national daily El Tiempo reported that four soldiers worked with a demobilized FARC Lidia Alape Manrique, alias "Jessica," to organize bombings ahead of Uribe's Aug. 7 inauguration. Two of the implicated soldiers were officers: Major Javier Efrén Hermida Benavidez and Captain Luis Eduardo Barrero, both assigned to an elite counter-terrorism unit, the Army Military Intelligence Regional (Rime). The officers allegedly hoped to claim reward money from the government's informants program for discovering the bombs. One attack was alleged to be a car bomb that killed a civilian and injured 18 soldiers on July 31.

"Jessica," arrested in the bombings Sept. 8, allegedly said under interrogation that she had worked in the past with Major Hermida.

Colombia's capital was on high alert on the inauguration day as authorities tried to prevent a repeat of the scenes when Uribe first took office four years earlier, when guerillas launched mortar attacks on the city center.

Uribe's focused on the "illegal leak" which "has caused so much damage, must be investigated." He said he would not be making any changes to the armed forces brass.

The military has been the largest recipient of the more than $4 billion in aid the US has given Colombia since 2000. But this is but the latest in a series of recent have hurt the military's image.

A number of army units are under investigation for extra-judicial killings of civilians, and one is accused of taking money from drug traffickers to assassinate 10 Colombian anti-narcotics police agents and an informant. The incident was presented as a "friendly fire" tragedy, but evidence has revealed they were killed at point-blank range. Several soldiers, including a colonel, have been arrested in the case. (El Tiempo, Sept. 9; AP, BBC, Sept. 11)

See our last post on Colombia.