Soldiers Assassinate Two Trade Unionists, Disappear One

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Union activists Manuel Antonio Jimenez and Jose Fernando Quiroz have been assassinated by Colombian soldiers in the southern region of Putumayo. On March 16th troops from the same unit responsible for the killings, the 27th Brigade, also took away union member Ivan Vientimilla. He has not been seen since and is officially registered as 'disappeared'.

The two killings both occurred in the Teteye area of Puerto Asis municipality and the soldiers responsible are believed to be members of the 'Domingo Rico' Battalion of the 27th Brigade. Mr Jimenez, an activist in the agricultural workers' union FENSUAGRO, was murdered after being detained by soldiers on March 15th in the village of El Progresso.

Mr Quiroz, also of FESUAGRO, was found dead the following day after soldiers had detained him on March 13th near the village of Nueva Granada as he rode to work.

The union has accused the 27th Brigade of attempting to physically exterminate their branch in Putumayo department and has pointed out the in addition to the two murders and the disappearance, numerous union activists have also been detained in the area.

The most recent detention, on March 14th, included Walter Ochoa, the regional leader of the union who was arrested along with union members Teresa Castillo and Robinson Alegria also in the village of Nueva Granada. Soldiers seized and interrogated the three unionists for two days in the village before taking them by helicopter to Puerto Asis jail where they are still being held in custody.

In addition to the above, 12 local FENSUAGRO members were detained on February 23rd after the 27th Brigade and a local unit of the Colombian Navy ordered all residents in part of Puerto Leguizamo municipality to come to an assembly in the village of Pinuna Negro at 7am. Once the residents were assembled, soldiers photographed and questioned everyone before detaining the 12 union activists. Two of the activists were then taken away by helicopter, whilst the other ten were forced to into a navy vessel. The troops informed the residents that they had a list of 105 people who they wanted to take into custody.

The 12 union activists detained were Blanca Nora Bastidas, Mario Fernando Quinonez, Jose Marcial Rosero, Robert Rivera Madrid, Jairo Cano, Jose Orlando Velez, Diego Matamba, Ariel Vanegas Naranjo, Alexander Garcia Restrepo, Fabian Antonio Rios, Epifania Quinonez and Alirio Chavez.

Immediately following their detention, FENSUAGRO contracted human rights lawyer Edgar Montilla Gonzalez who filed a habeas corpus petition and got them released on the grounds that they had been illegally detained i.e. without arrest warrants. However, a state prosecutor in the Colombian capital Bogota then issued arrest the relevant warrants and the secret police subsequently found and detained all 12 once again. A day later they were transferred to prisons hundreds of miles away in Bogota where it is difficult for their lawyer of family members to visit them. This happened despite the presence of local prosecutors in Putumayo department who could have handled their cases.

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