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Colombia military atrocities prompt criticism of Plan Colombia

August 21, 2008 |  8:41 am

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The number of civilians killed by Colombian armed forces has soared, activist groups allege, with many of the abuses committed by army units that had been vetted by the State Department. There were 329 so-called extra-judicial killings by the Colombian military and police last year, a coalition of Colombian rights groups asserts in a report, a 48% increase from the 223 reported in 2006, reports the L.A. Times' Chris Kraul.

According to this report, the continuing allegations against the Colombian military have led Congress to criticize U.S. military aid under Plan Colombia and have been an obstacle to approval of a binational free trade agreement.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on State Department and foreign operations and author of the 1996 law that makes foreign military aid conditional on human rights compliance, expressed dismay.

"While the secretary of State certifies sufficient progress on human rights in Colombia, multiple sources report that unlawful killings by the Colombian army are continuing despite efforts by the minister of defense to stop it," he said in an e-mailed statement. "After providing billions of dollars in training and equipment to the Colombian army, we should expect better, including vigorous investigations and prosecutions of these crimes."

The United States Congress just approved a similar injection of funding into Mexico under a bill called the Merida Initiative, under which $400 million will go toward helping President Felipe Calderon fight powerful drug cartels and organized crime networks. You can read Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont defending that bill here.

Read the whole dispatch on unlawful killings by the Colombian military here
.

For more on Colombia, click here.

And click here for more on the Merida Initiative.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

Photo: Forensic anthropologist Maira Martinez works in a shallow grave near Santa Marta, Colombia. Martinez is a member of a dozen exhumation teams that have fanned out across Colombia to dig up remains of thousands of victims of a decades-long conflict. Credit: Chris Kraul / Los Angeles Times

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