Sunday, March 30, 2008

Colombian Troops Kill Farmers, Pass Off Bodies as Rebels'

Go to Washington Post original
SAN FRANCISCO, Colombia — All Cruz Elena González saw when the soldiers came past her house was a corpse, wrapped in a tarp and strapped to a mule. A guerrilla killed in combat, soldiers muttered, as they trudged past her meek home in this town in northwestern Colombia.

She soon learned that the body belonged to her 16-year-old son, Robeiro Valencia, and that soldiers had classified him as a guerrilla killed in combat, a claim later discredited by the local government human rights ombudsman. “Imagine what I felt when my other son told me it was Robeiro,” González said in recounting the August killing. “He was my boy.”

Funded in part by the Bush administration, a six-year military offensive has helped the government here wrest back territory once controlled by guerrillas and kill hundreds of rebels in recent months, including two top commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

But under intense pressure from Colombian military commanders to register combat kills, the army has in recent years also increasingly been killing poor farmers and passing them off as rebels slain in combat, government officials and human rights groups say. The tactic has touched off a fierce debate in the Defense Ministry between tradition-bound generals who favor an aggressive campaign that centers on body counts and reformers who say the army needs to develop other yardsticks to measure battlefield success.


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