British Minister Loses Union's Support Over Aid to Colombia

Justice For Colombia News | on: Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Today's Guardian newspaper has reported that Britain's largest trade union is urging members not to campaign for Labour MP Kim Howells due to his ongoing support for Colombian military units that have murdered trade unionists. Howells is the Minister responsible for British relations with Colombia and was recently photographed posing with soldiers involved in killings of civilians and with an Army General with alleged links to paramilitary death squads and drugs traffickers.

Here Justice for Colombia reproduces the Guardian article:

Minister loses union's support over aid to Colombia

March 12th 2008, by Owen Bowcott, The Guardian

Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has lost the backing of a major union over his involvement in sending British military aid to Colombia.

Unite in Wales has urged members not to campaign for the south Wales ex-miner, after Andy Richards, regional secretary of the union travelled to Latin America last summer to investigate the killing of trade union activists.

The row over the Pontypridd MP's stance has escalated since he appeared in a photograph posted on the Foreign Office website last month with troops of the High Mountain Battalion of the Colombian army. The unit has been accused of killing trade unionists, peasants and anti-narcotics police.

Richards told the Guardian: "Kim has had support from our union at election times. We won't be supporting him in future.

"We can't support politicians who take this type of stance on the provision of military aid to Colombia where there have been numerous murders of trade unionists with impunity.

"Kim Howells is a member of our union. The Wales TUC wrote to him inviting him to the next meeting of the general committee. To date, we haven't heard from him.

"We are calling on all our members not to campaign for him at the next election. Kim Howells said in the House of Commons that Farc [the rebel movement] are responsible for most murders of trade unionists. Even the Colombian government doesn't accept that."

In a statement to parliament to clarify the issue last month, Howells told the Labour MP Katy Clark: "It is illegal armed groups including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) that are committing the majority of human rights abuses in Colombia, including intimidation and murder of trade unionists.

However, the Colombian armed forces are also guilty of committing abuses, which is why we are helping the Colombian government develop the processes to root out these abuses."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Aid to [Colombia] is principally in the area of counter-narcotics, land mine disposal and encouraging them to protect human rights all over Colombia.

"We and the TUC invited Colombian trade union members over here last week to hear from them. There were discussions about how we could further help. This is an area that is constantly being discussed with the Colombian government.

"The foreign secretary was recently talking to their vice-president.

"We try and make sure that those officers we have dealings with are not those who may have perpetrated human rights abuses."

The government has not revealed the cost of British military aid to Colombia but it is thought to be around 1m a year.

The campaigning organisation Justice For Colombia has called for Britain to end its military support to the country.

Its director, Liam Craig-Best, said: "Nobody in the world has claimed that the Farc are responsible for the majority of killings of trade unionists. We've no idea where Howells could have got it from."

Howells's office in Pontypridd said that although the MP was a member of Unite, he had not received financial support from the union.

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The article is posted on The Guardian website at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/mar/12/foreignpolicy.tradeunions



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