Attempt Made to Kill Witness in Murder Case against British-Trained Colombian Soldiers

News from Colombia | on: Sunday, 10 May 2009

Colombian human rights groups have reacted furiously to an attempt made earlier today to murder Jose Wilson Giraldo in the southern Colombian city of Cali. Mr Giraldo is the key witness in a case against troops of the British-trained High Mountain Battalion who are accused of the extrajudicial execution of Mr Giraldo's brother whose body the troops later presented as a guerrilla that they had supposedly killed in combat. A large number of human rights groups have called on the Colombian authorities to take action to safeguard Mr Giraldo's life so that he may testify in the case against the soldiers involved.

Mr Giraldo was shot in the neck earlier today as he travelled with his wife to visit his mother. Concern has been expressed that the Army itself may have been involved in the attempted assassination and according to the 'Colombia-Europe-US Coordination', a coalition of 199 human rights organisations, less than two weeks ago, on April 28th, two soldiers went to his wife's place of work and enquired as to his likely whereabouts.

The case in which Mr Giraldo is due to testify involves the March 11th 2006 murder of his brother, Jose Orlando Giraldo, by troops of the High Mountain Battalion of the Colombian Army. The Army unit involved, members of which have received UK military training, later claimed that he was a FARC guerrilla fighter.

The practice of killing civilians and claiming them to be guerrillas killed in combat is widely practised by the Colombian Army as soldiers receive financial bonuses or time off for each guerrilla that they kill. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that the practice is "widespread and systematic" in the Colombian Army and credible reports indicate that well over 1,5000 civilians have been murdered in this way in recent years.

So far only one of the ten members of the High Mountain Battalion involved, a Sergeant Luis Eduardo Mahecha, is facing formal charges for murder though two days ago the trial was suspended for the seventh time this year causing deep concern among human rights groups and family members of the victim that justice may never be done.

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