Colombian Army Officer Admits Killing of Civilians is “Systematic”

News from Colombia | on: Sunday, 27 January 2008

A Colombian Army Sergeant has blown the whistle on a practice that he says is widespread in the armed forces – that of killing civilians and then dressing their bodies in guerrilla uniforms and presenting their corpses as if they were guerrillas killed in combat.

Sergeant Alexander Rodriguez, who was interviewed in Colombia's Semana magazine this week, spoke out about what was happening in his own unit – the 15th Mobile Brigade – and said that what he witnessed was the "systematic" executing of civilians by soldiers. Before speaking to the press the Sergeant gave a statement to the Colombian Prosecutor's General office.

Three days after speaking out Sergeant Rodriguez had his active service contract with the Army terminated – a decision that Semana magazine alleges was taken by Army commander General Mario Montoya. The commander of the accused 15th Mobile Brigade was also immediately removed from his post – transferred to Bogota and promoted to the position of official assistant to General Montoya.

Although the Prosecutor's Office has stated that they take Sergeant Rodriguez's allegations extremely seriously and will be opening an investigation, the Army have accused him of being undisciplined and an incompetent solider.

According to his testimony soldiers in the 15th Mobile Brigade, which operates in the Norte de Santander region bordering Venezuela, were each given five days holiday time per person they murdered. Rodriguez also says that guns were regularly placed on the bodies of those that were executed making it look as if there had been combat.

Sergeant Rodriguez also gave details of some of the specific murders perpetrated by his unit – one of which coincides exactly with evidence collected by Colombian human rights organisation MINGA which denounced the killing at the time. In that case, 22-year-old peasant farmer Willamir Rodriguez Figueroa was detained by soldiers and then shot. However, the bullet did not kill him and having left him for dead with a gun planted next to his body the soldiers turned their attention elsewhere allowing him the chance to escape. But upon arriving at a hospital for medical attention Mr Figueroa was arrested by the authorities and thrown in jail accused of 'rebellion'.

Another of the cases described by the Sergeant was the October 13th 2007 murder of peasant farmer Adinael Arias Cardenas whose body was shown to the media the following day as a guerrilla killed in combat.

Both cases were reported on at the time by Justice for Colombia here http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/news/article/51/-

According to Semana magazine Sergeant Rodriguez is not the only person to be accusing the army of carrying out extrajudicial murders of civilians.

"Human rights NGOs have registered 19 cases of possible extra-judicial executions committed by the Brigade in 2007. At the end of last year the Prosecutor's Office had 40 complaints regarding these actions. These add to the already known complaints of executions carried out by Brigades in Antioquia and Meta Departments".

On January 18th this year Justice for Colombia wrote to the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, expressing our concern that some of the Colombian military units carrying out such executions may be benefiting from UK military assistance. A copy of the letter can be seen here: http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/downloads/JFC_Letter_18-Jan-2008.pdf He has still not replied.

For the full article (in Spanish) on Sergeant Rodriguez's allegations please visit http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?IdArt=109046



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