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Issue Date:  March 5, 2004

Critics say Colombian paramilitary pact risks impunity

Latinamerica Press
Medellín, Colombia

A polemical government proposal aimed at removing Colombia’s right-wing paramilitaries from the civil war between the country’s security forces and leftist rebels has won important international support, but critics say the plan is ill-conceived and smacks of impunity.

Under a pact signed with the government last July, the Self-Defense Forces of Colombia -- the umbrella organization for most paramilitary groups -- agreed to demobilize its fighters by the end of 2005. About 850 members of that organization have disarmed so far.

In late January, the process gained momentum when the Organization of American States agreed to monitor the demobilization. Around the same time, the United Nations mission in Colombia said its office would back peace efforts. The Council of Catholic Bishops has also declared its support.

On Feb. 10, the European Union gave its tentative support for the demobilization effort, providing that immunity is not offered to paramilitary troops before all the facts are in.

Nevertheless, for many the current process remains controversial and ambiguous.

Wide sectors of Colombian society and the international community maintain that Colombia’s military helped to create and foster paramilitary factions during the past three decades and continues to maintain close links with these irregular forces, estimated to number some 12,000. Paramilitaries are estimated to have committed hundreds of political killings in recent months.

Carlos Posada, president of the National Union of Public Service Workers, said his union seriously doubts the authenticity of the peace process. “We believe the national government is trying to legalize state terror developed in the carrying out of what’s known as the dirty war,” he said.

Paramilitaries, who supposedly demobilized, continue to operate, Posada said. Posada was a victim himself of a paramilitary attack 10 years ago in which he nearly lost his life. “The truth is what the media is showing us isn’t real,” said Posada.

Paramilitary assassins often target trade unionists. Posada said that since the government proposed the idea of alternative sentencing, attacks against trade unionists actually increased because “they know they can act with absolute impunity.”

National Catholic Reporter, March 5, 2004

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