Former Congressman Assassinated as Paramilitaries Issue Threats in Colombian Coffee Growing Region

News from Colombia | on: Monday, 20 April 2009

A former member of the Colombian Congress who was a key witness against a politician suspected of murdering his rival has been killed in the city of Armenia, the capital of the Colombian coffee growing region of Quindio. A paramilitary group operating in the region has also been extremely active in recent weeks issuing death threats and accusing civil society groups of links to leftwing guerrilla groups, though it is not known if they were involved in the most recent killing.

Former Congressman Carlos Alberto Oviedo Alfaro was gunned down in a restaurant on April 18th in an attack thought to be linked to his role in the trial of Congressman Alberto Santofimio who is accused of having ordered the murder of his political rival, Luis Carlos Galan, in 1989. Mr Oviedo Alfaro, who was himself supposed to be under house arrest for murder, was a key witness in the trial which may now collapse as a result of his assassination.

Meanwhile April also saw several paramilitary death threats circulated in Quindio with one in particular appearing repeatedly in which the paramilitaries say that they are going to cleanse the region of 'undesirables' in this case homeless people, prostitutes, drug addicts and others on the margin of society. Another threat, which describes human rights groups, trade unions, peasant farmer organisations, student leaders, women's groups and members of displaced communities as 'terrorists' was also recently sent to several of the organisations mentioned in it mainly groups making up the Quindio Human Rights Platform.

In a statement the Platform described the situation as one of "systematic threats, intimidation and persecution of civil society groups or anyone else in Quindio who expresses opposition to the regime of President Alvaro Uribe Velez". Human rights groups say that although copies of the threats, some of which arrived by letter and others by e-mail, have been provided to the authorities no action has been taken to protect those named.

In a further development of concern in the region the Federation of University Students, one of Colombia's largest student organisations, has reported that shadowy individuals claiming to be intelligence officers from the Colombian Ministry of Defence have been attempting to recruit student leaders at the University of Quindio to spy on their colleagues. The approaches, which began in mid-March, allegedly involve the men offering money and protection for "collaboration" in providing information such as lists of those attending meetings, details of students or staff that have sympathies with guerrilla groups and any guerrilla presence on the university campus.

According to the Federation the military intelligence officers have been telling student leaders that if they do not agree to provide information and take the money on offer then they will be murdered or forcibly disappeared.

See also:

March 11th: Another Union Leader Jailed in Colombia, No Charge, No Trial and Human Rights Activists and Trade Unionists Threatened

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