Colombian Military Bomb Primary School

News from Colombia | on: Thursday, 12 February 2009

A primary school and several homes have been virtually destroyed during an assault by the Colombian military on the rural village of La Esperanza in the northeast region of Catatumbo. According to reports from the area troops of the 23rd Mobile Brigade of the Colombian Army, backed by an Arpia ground-attack helicopter, fired indiscriminately at civilian targets during the attack on the morning of February 9th. A similar attack was launched on the nearby village of La India last month.

No children were injured in the latest incident as the La Esperanza School, where 33 local children are registered, is currently closed due to regional authorities not having appointed a teacher to work there. However, the building itself was allegedly hit at least 15 times, almost destroying the structure. Witnesses also report that a nearby home in which women and children were sheltering, was strafed by the helicopter and that the assault has created generalised panic and terror among local residents.

Shortly after 11am a large number of soldiers arrived at the school where they established, in clear violation of international humanitarian law, a command post – turning an obviously civilian building into a military target. When the president of the local Community Action Council approached the troops to ask why they were setting up camp in the village he was detained and interrogated about links between local people and a FARC guerrilla unit that is believed to operate in the region. According to a communiqué from the Catatumbo Farmers' Association soldiers also robbed the local community leader, looted the school and the village shop and killed several farm animals.

In January a Colombian Air Force bomber backed by a Black Hawk helicopter gunship attacked the village of La India, also in Catatumbo region. On that occasion areas where civilians lived and worked were again strafed by gunfire before around 200 soldiers of the 5th Mobile Brigade of the Colombian Army arrived in the village claiming that they believed there to be a guerrilla camp at that location.

The Colombian Army is accused of conducting a brutal military offensive that has seen numerous civilians killed in the remote Catatumbo region. In many cases soldiers subsequently dress the bodies in FARC uniforms in order to claim that they have killed a guerrilla in combat for which they receive bonuses or other benefits. For previous news from the region see:

November 2008 Paramilitary/Military Terror Continues Unabated in Northeast Colombia

September 2008 Colombian Army Executes Peasant Farmer

April 2008 Six Civilians Massacred by Army in Catatumbo

November 2007 Army Executes Peasant Farmer

October 2007 Army Executes 7 in Catatumbo

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