Colombia: Versions About a Military Operation That Left 11 Dead

Residents, human rights organizations, the media, the army and the Colombian government clash in their versions of a military operation on the border with Peru and Ecuador where, according to complaints, civilians who were presented as guerrillas killed in combat died.

Pending the investigation carried out by the prosecution, questions are piling up about this military incursion into the municipality of Puerto Leguízamo (south) that left eleven dead and four wounded on March 28.

According to the state Ombudsman, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and indigenous authorities, among the deceased there could be at least four civilians: a minor, a governor of the original Kitcwhwa people, a community leader and his pregnant wife.

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For the government of President Iván Duque, the deceased were dissident rebels of the former FARC guerrilla or collaborators of this organization who fell in a “legitimate” action.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asked the State to investigate the case and avoid “the stigmatization of the victims.”

On the morning of that Monday, the soldiers entered the village where a fair was being held that had begun on Saturday and was attended by hundreds of people.

What happened next is confusing.

“We have evidence that strongly suggests that at least four of the eleven dead were civilians,” said Juan Pappier, senior researcher for the Americas at HRW, in an interview with Blu Radio.

For his part, General Juan Carlos Correa, commander of the operation, defended the action on Tuesday and gave new details of what happened in that coca-growing region hit by the armed conflict of more than half a century.

The dead and wounded who left “more than two hours of intense combat” are “alleged members of this criminal structure or actively participated in a hostile action” in which a soldier was shot, he insisted.

The operation removed the wounds of the “false positives”, as the biggest scandal of the Colombian military forces is known in which at least 6,400 civilians were killed and presented as killed guerrillas between 2002 and 2008.

The country is experiencing the worst onslaught of armed groups since the signing of the peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas in 2016.

Although the bulk of the rebels surrendered their weapons, dissidences remained active without a unified command, numbering some 5,200 combatants, mostly new recruits.

party and bullets

In an invitation dated March 14, residents of the area known as Alto Remanso called for a “sensational bazaar” with cockfights, sporting events, dance contests, liquor and “pretty girls.”

A media alliance traveled to the village on the banks of the Putumayo River to collect testimonies and images.

According to Cambio, El Espectador and Vorágine, on the last day of the fair, men “dressed in black and without insignia,” who identified themselves as guerrillas, entered the town.

“At seven o’clock in the morning, the time when drunks and newly awakened children coincide, the first rifle shots rang out,” Cambio described.

With nearly 20,000 hectares of coca planted, according to the UN, in Putumayo there are peasants, indigenous people and armed groups that finance themselves from drug trafficking in the country that exports the most cocaine in the world.

Although at first Correa assured that in the area “there was no (social) activity, nor bazaar”, this Tuesday he recognized the existence of “a coca bazaar” where drugs were sold and which was attended by about 300 people.

But at the time of launching the offensive “there was no civilian population,” the general assured W Radio.

The indigenous “had a rifle with a telescopic sight”, the pregnant woman was “throwing war material into the river”, the 16-year-old boy was carrying a long gun and the community leader was a rebel, he said.

According to Correa, the soldiers wore black and green sweaters “authorized by the regulations.”

Handling

Music, liquor bottles and dances were recorded in amateur videos of the party.

There were “civilians but also probably four to five members of the border commando” from the dissidents, Pappier said.

The military action left four civilians injured, no arrests and the seizure of six firearms.

The IACHR “received information about an alleged denial of medical assistance” to those affected, the entity detailed in a statement.

Alias ​​’Bruno’, leader of the dissidents and main objective of the operation, escaped from the area before launching the offensive, admitted General Correa.

“It is not the first operation where pregnant women fall, where minors who are combatants fall,” launched the commander of the army, General Eduardo Zapateiro.

The digital portal Cambio denounced that the military “manipulated” the corpses, “moved them from the places where they fell and put firearms and military clothing on them,” a version that the army denies.

“You have to determine what the military objective was (…) if the rules of proportionality were met, there are still many unknowns and open questions that we are examining,” Pappier questioned.

AFP is a major global information agency that offers fast, verified and comprehensive coverage.

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