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Colombian army chief resigns over civilian deaths

Wed., Nov. 5, 2008

BOGOTA, Colombia – Army commander Gen. Mario Montoya resigned Tuesday amid a widening scandal surrounding the Colombian armed forces’ alleged practice of inflating body counts by shooting innocent civilians and claiming them as guerrillas killed in combat.

Montoya is the highest-ranking official yet to lose his job over the “false positives” controversy, which last week forced President Alvaro Uribe to dismiss 20 officers from the army’s leadership corps.

After months of denials, Uribe was forced to act after a defense ministry commission reported findings of “negligence” and “possible collusion” of officers in connection with its probe of macabre deaths of a dozen young men from the poor Bogota suburb of Soacha.

Family members said the men were lured by “recruiters” to the northern border state of North Santander on promises of high-paying jobs, then killed by the army and buried as anonymous guerrilla casualties.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Uribe said he was naming Gen. Oscar Gonzalez, commander of the army’s northern command, as new chief.

In accepting Montoya’s resignation, Uribe said Montoya was an “exemplary general in operations, efficiency and transparency” and that he tried unsuccessfully to dissuade him from quitting.

The resignation comes as Uribe faces increased criticism over Colombia’s human-rights record from international civil society groups and from Democratic members of the U.S. Congress, which since 2000 has approved some $5 billion in Plan Colombia anti-drug-and-terror aid.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay said at a press conference Saturday that extrajudicial killings were “widespread and systematic” and that international courts should investigate the alleged murders if Uribe failed to prosecute wrongdoers.

In October 2007, an assemblage of human-rights groups issued a report alleging that extrajudicial killings by the Colombian military had risen sharply over the previous five years.


 

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