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by Bill Weinberg

As atrocities by all sides continue to escalate in Colombia's civil war, the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez is pursuing a "peace dialogue" with the right-wing paramilitary group responsible for the majority of the war crimes and massacres over the past ten years. Meanwhile, the president has warned that arrest orders could be imminent against leaders of Colombia's self-proclaimed "peace communities"--autonomous peasant villages which refuse to collaborate with any armed factions.


On May 27, President Uribe issued a statement threatening leaders of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, in the northern Uraba region, with arrest for "obstructing justice." Uribe cited a complaint by the Fiscalia, investigative arm of national government, alleging that the community leaders do not permit residents to testify to Fiscalia personnel. Uribe also said that San Jose de Apartado "continues to be a corridor for the FARC," the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Such accusations have made the Peace Community a target for military and paramilitary violence in the past. Uribe also made statements threatening international volunteers with arrest and deportation for supporting the Peace Community by serving as rights observers.

Just days after Uribe's statement, on June 2, Army and National Police agents entered San Jose de Apartado, demanding the papers of members of Peace Brigades International stationed at the village as observers. The agents announced that a permanent National Police station would be established at the village, according to a statement on the incident by Peace Community leaders. The agents also reportedly asked for two community leaders by name, and inquired about when the community meets and what it discusses. Although the Peace Community forbids selling goods to any armed groups, soldiers forced local merchants to sell them goods, reportedly saying, "Just like you sell to the guerrillas, you also have to sell to us." The Peace Community statement warns that if the security forces occupy the village, it would entangle their community in the war and the civilian population would be forced to relocate.

Uribe's statements came in the context of a "security council" meeting with local military and civilian authorities after a bomb blast at a discotheque in the nearby city of Apartado killed seven people and injured over 100 on May 22. Uribe also announced that a new US-trained "mobile brigade" of the Colombian Army will be deployed to the Uraba region.

San Jose de Apartado, some twenty miles from Apartado city, declared itself Peace Community in 1997, after repeated incursions by army, paramilitary and guerilla forces had left several villagers dead. In a May 24 statement, the Peace Community condemned the Apartado disco bombing as a "demented act against the civilian population, which demonstrates how destructive and unjust the war is." The statement also protested the ongoing atmosphere of impunity, in which numerous violent attacks on San Jose community leaders have gone uninvestigated. The Interamerican Court of Human Rights has officially called on the Colombian government to address the threats and violence faced by Peace Community leaders.

Uribe's statements were published on the official presidential website as a press release under the title "Uribe Velez: 'In Colombia Nobody Can Obstruct Justice.'" Ironically, Uribe called his threats against the Peace Community leaders part of his "struggle against impunity." He warned that "In Colombia there cannot be one centimeter of territory without the presence of the [government] institutions. When I began this government, I expressed clearly that in San Jose de Apartado and everywhere else in the Fatherland there must be the presence of the Army, the Police, to accompany the Fiscalia when they take the decision to have a presence... We are ready to support the Fiscalia with our Army, with our Police, so that the Fiscalia can administer justice in San Jose Apartado, which continues to be a corridor for the FARC."


As peace activists are threatened with arrest, the Colombian government continues a "peace dialogue" with the outlawed right-wing paramilitaries--despite one para leader being banned from the talks after he abducted a former senator and eight others. Jose Gnecco remains missing after being kidnapped June 28, though his family and chauffeur have been freed. In response to the abductions, the government stripped Rodrigo Tovar Pupo--alias "Jorge 40"--of immunity from arrest during pending talks.

BBC reported the family was kidnapped as they drove along the coastal highway between the cities of Santa Marta and Riohacha in the conflicted region of La Guajira. All except ex-senator Gnecco were picked up in the foothills of the nearby Sierra Nevada the following morning. Reports say their release followed an army operation. A local army general reported that Gnecco's wife, Laura Giraldo, and one of their children had received bullet wounds.

A statement by President Uribe's office said there were "strong signs " that the abductions were carried out by paramilitaries from the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC). The statement said new arrest orders had been issued for Tovar and fellow AUC commander Hernan Giraldo Serna. Arrest warrants against the leaders were suspended on June 15 provided they remain within a 368-square-km safe haven set up in the municipality of Tierralta, Cordoba department. The peace talks aim to demobilize the AUC's 13,000 fighters by 2006. In return, the group seeks guarantees of safe conduct and protection against extradition to the US on drug trafficking charges. Of the ten paramilitary negotiators, five have outstanding US extradition warrants, and another three, including Tovar, are under investigation.

Partially in protest of the immunity being afforded para leaders, another armed group, the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), on July 10 officially rejected a cease-fire offer. In a letter to Mexican mediator Andres Valencia, the ELN said lenient treatment of the paras proved the government's offer was "improvised" and insincere. The ELN had appointed Francisco Galan, now held in a top security prison, as their main peace negotiator, DPA reported.


In another signal that Colombia's civil war has degenerated into a struggle over control of the country's lucrative cocaine trade, BBC reported June 16

that armed men massacred 34 peasant coca growers in the village of Rio Chiquita, Norte de Santander department. Regional police commander Lt Col William Montezuma told the BBC that 50 gunmen rounded up the peasants and summarily shot them. Officials said the gunmen were from the FARC, and the coca farm was under the control of right-wing paramilitaries.

The cocaleros were reportedly sleeping in hammocks when the gunmen arrived at dawn. Bound hand and foot with ropes, they were then shot with automatic weapons. "We saved ourselves by running toward the mountain," said Jesus Bayona, 45, who survived after being shot in the foot.

The attack comes at a bad time for the FARC, which is attempting to portray a recent change in leadership as signaling a tilt away from a military emphasis towards one of civil political struggle. BBC reported June 12 that the FARC's long-time leader Manuel Marulanda had died or is near death of prostate cancer. The FARC's new leader is named as Alfonso Cano--reportedly an alias for Guillermo Leon Saenz--who has long been ideological head of the guerrilla army.


Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, July 10, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Reprinting permissible with attribution.