Colombian paramilitaries carry out scattered massacres
BUGA, Colombia (AP) – Right-wing paramilitary fighters pulled unarmed people off buses and out of their homes in this southern village, killing at least 24 men after accusing them of aiding leftist rebels, authorities said Thursday.
The massacre was one of several attacks and slayings around the country in the past week, most of them blamed on the outlawed paramilitaries, known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.
A wave of bloodshed has claimed at least 49 lives, including four soldiers and the mayor of a town. Twelve other people are missing and feared dead.
Despite President Andres Pastrana’s efforts to negotiate an end to the 37-year civil war, the violence has been escalating across this South American country.
The worst massacre took place Wednesday in Buga, an agricultural village 160 miles southwest of Bogota. Authorities have found the bodies of 24 men and are still looking for six others who are feared dead.
”They took the people out of two buses and from their homes,” Buga Mayor John Jairo Bohorquez told Caracol radio. ”They separated the women, old people and children, and then killed the men.”
Bohorquez said members of the AUC shot each of the men in the head after accusing them of aiding leftist rebels. The mayor was not immediately available for further comment because he was looking for bodies of more victims, his office said.
Luz Mary Carmona said her son was home visiting when he was killed. She’s planning to leave the village, as are many others. ”Life is over here,” she said.
Last year 317,375 Colombians fled their homes last year, the majority of them because of massacres, according the Human Rights and Displacement Council.
Also Thursday, police said the mayor of a small southern town was killed along with his driver and three other people, apparently by paramilitaries. The killing Thursday of Cartagena del Chaira Mayor Luis Elias Marin happened near the town of Montanitas, on the edge of a safe haven the government granted to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, almost three years ago.
Paramilitaries have also been blamed for the slaying of six fishermen whose bodies were found Wednesday; an attack on an army patrol the same day that left four soldiers and an AUC fighter dead; and the assassinations of two congressmen and a union leader in the past week.
Gunmen also killed three counternarcotics police and three civilians after stopping their vehicles on a highway near the Caribbean Sea, police said Thursday. The attackers’ identity was unknown.
The Colombian Defense Ministry says that 303 people had been massacred through July of 2001, 199 of them by the AUC. The U.S. government, which is providing millions of dollars in military aid to the Colombian government, recently added the AUC to its list of international terrorist organizations.
Two other Colombian groups – the FARC, and the leftist National Liberation Army – are also on the list.
The Colombia office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement Thursday condemning the massacres and urging the government to ”apply strategies to fight against paramilitarism.”
The high commissioner’s office said the government has the responsibility to punish the offenders, and urged it ”to investigate, judge and punish the people responsible for these crimes against humanity.”
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