Police, Army and Paramilitaries Working Together in Antioquia

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Police officers in a town in central Colombia allowed a suspected paramilitary to photograph a woman in their custody. The following day paramilitary gunmen, holding a copy of the photo, pulled her off a bus in a rural part of Antioquia department and murdered her. The victim's son-in-law, who was also photographed in police custody, was shot and left for dead in the same attack, though he survived.

The story began on June 13th when Ms Hilduara de Cruz Betancur along with her daughter Zury Betancur and son-in-law Arley Duque Rincon plus their three children left the village of Santa Ana where they all lived to travel to the town of Granada the largest town in this part of Antioquia. After doing some shopping and eating out, all six checked into a hotel in Granada to stay the night, planning to return to Santa Ana the following day.

However, during the night police raided the hotel and detained the entire family. Whilst the three children were sent to a care home managed by the local council, the three adults were held in the local police station for the entire day (June 14th). Whilst in detention police officers allowed an unidentified man in civilian clothes access to the custody area to photograph the three detainees.

At 10pm that night all three were released although it was not made clear to them where they could collect the children from. The following morning, Sunday 15th June, after searching for much of the day the adults were finally informed that the official responsible for the children was on holiday and that they should return on Monday to collect the children. By 2pm they decided to leave back to Santa Ana and return the following morning for the three youngsters.

Later that afternoon on the Granada-Santa Ana road, near the community of Roble, two masked men stopped the bus on which the three were travelling. The men held photos of Hilduara de Cruz Betancur and Arley Duque Rincon the same photos taken in the police station and upon identifying them they were forced off the bus at gunpoint. Ms Betancur was then shot dead and Mr Rincon shot and left for dead.

Colombian human rights groups have called on the Colombian authorities to investigate this clear case of police collusion with a paramilitary unit though they say there is little hope of justice being done as such complicity is common in the region.

Indeed, just a day after the murder outlined above, troops of the 8th Battalion of the 14th Brigade of the Colombian Army where seen patrolling with four masked men, believed to be paramilitaries, in the nearby municipality of Remedios, also in Antioquia department.

Residents in the community of Altos Manila said that they were terrified on June 16th when soldiers arrived with the four men, especially as many of them had complained in previous days that the troops were putting their lives and property at risk by camping in their porches and gardens. According to residents of the community by basing themselves so close to the civilian population the soldiers have in effect turned them into human shields against a potential guerrilla attack.

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