BOGOTA – Colombian prosecutors are investigating 1,603 military personnel in connection with 812 extrajudicial executions during the last six years, Bogota daily El Tiempo said Tuesday, citing an official report.
The report was handed over to the United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, when he visited the Andean nation last month, the newspaper said.
Most of the officers and men caught up in the probe are assigned to the army’s 5th Division, which is headquartered in Bogota and operates in the provinces of Cundinamarca, Boyaca, Tolima and Huila.
The scandal of the “false positives” – civilians executed by the army and then presented as rebels killed in combat – erupted last October with the discovery in northeastern Colombia of the bodies of a score of young men who had disappeared from Soacha, a poor town on the outskirts of Bogota.
The men had been buried in common graves as if they were guerrillas killed in combat.
It emerged that civilian accomplices lured the victims away from Soacha with promises of employment and that the soldiers who claimed credit for the “kills” received weekend passes and other benefits.
Investigators have found cases where army patrols simply grabbed people, killed them and staged the scene to make it appear the deaths occurred in combat.
Some of those victims were trade union activists or community leaders, prosecutors said in the report quoted by El Tiempo.
Other false positives are the result of “social cleansing” – the rounding up and killing of vagrants or homeless people, while yet another class of victims consisted of people slain or kidnapped by rightist militias and handed over to the army, the document says.
The probe likewise uncovered instances where people were found dead after their having been seized by soldiers and delivered to militias.
U.N. rapporteur Alston said that what he learned during his 10-day visit to Colombia left no doubt in his mind the extrajudicial killing of civilians was a “systematic practice” for the country’s armed forces.
Colombia’s military, which receives roughly $500 million a year in U.S. assistance, is under pressure to show results in its campaign against the 45-year-old FARC insurgency and it is said that unit commanders have quotas for the number of rebels eliminated. EFE