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Colombian army to reword controversial policy on kill orders

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Colombia’s army announced it would modify instructions given to troops following an article in the New York Times that claimed a new policy could result in a greater number of civilians being killed in the battle against criminals and militants.

The article written by the Times’ Andean bureau chief, Nicholas Casey, claimed that the head of Colombia’s army had “ordered his troops to double the number of criminals and militants they kill, capture or force to surrender in battle — and possibly accept higher civilian casualties in the process.”

That brought back uncomfortable memories of a controversial practice used by authorities between 2002 and 2008, under the government of then president Alvaro Uribe, when soldiers killed thousands of civilians and presented them as left-wing rebels in a bid to obtain bonuses or promotions.

“We have never demanded a number of dead, we’ve never done it and we never will. I’ve never demanded it,” army commander General Nicacio Martinez told reporters.

“We’re demanding effectiveness,” he added, before saying there could have been “a misunderstanding” over what that meant by “people not part of the institution.”

“We want to change the format to generate calm. As it has been misunderstood, it’s better to change it,” Martinez told the CM& news channel.

Casey’s report sparked concern from Human Rights Watch whose director for the Americas, Jose Miguel Vivanco said “these practices suggest that the current Army and the Ministry of Defense have learned nothing from one of the darkest chapters in Colombia’s history, that of false positives, which puts the civilian population at serious risk.”

More than 3,000 people are believed to have been killed in that situation, according to Human Rights Watch. So far, 961 military staff have been prosecuted for the offense, official data shows.

President Ivan Duque’s government described the Times article, which used anonymous sources, as “full of inconsistencies,” but vowed a “zero tolerance” policy towards human rights abuses.

Maria Fernanda Cabal, a lawmaker from Duque’s Democratic Center party, accused Casey — who has left Colombia — of being “paid” by FARC, the left-wing guerrilla group that laid down its arms in 2016 and formed a political party following a historic peace accord that ended a half century of bloody armed conflict.

The international press association in Colombia rejected the accusations against Casey, and demanded a “rectification.”

Colombia, the world’s leading producer of cocaine, suffered more than 50 years of bloodshed in fighting by guerrillas, paramilitaries, state agents and drug traffickers, with more than eight million people killed, missing and displaced.

Colombian ex-guerrilla leader arrested, hospitalized upon prison release
Bogota (AFP) May 18, 2019 -
A former left-wing guerrilla leader wanted by the United States for drug trafficking was hospitalized in police custody Saturday with what authorities said were self-inflicted arm wounds.

Officials at the Bogota hospital where Jesus Santrich was taken said the 52-year-old blind former leader of the FARC rebels, was in stable condition. In addition to the wounds to his arms, it said he had an “altered state of consciousness.”

Santrich had been freed earlier in the day from prison following an order by the special court tasked with judging crimes committed during Colombia’s half century of armed conflict — but he was then immediately re-arrested in connection with the drug trafficking investigation that has the US seeking his extradition.

Washington, through its Bogota embassy, had strongly opposed Santrich’s release and demanded that the ruling that set him free be “urgently” reviewed.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) had ordered the release to comply with the “non-extradition guarantee” that formed part of the 2016 peace accord that ended the FARC insurrection, converting the former rebels into a political party.

“Santrich has just been recaptured at the door” of the prison, the FARC political party said on Twitter.

Upon leaving La Picota prison in a wheelchair, he was immediately detained by public prosecutors before being taken away in a police helicopter.

In a statement, the public prosecutor’s office said it “acted on” an arrest warrant related to the drug-trafficking investigation.

Santrich, whose real name is Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, is suspected of participating in the trafficking of 10 tons of cocaine to the United States in 2017 and 2018, crucially after the peace accord was signed in December 2016.

The agreement stipulated that former guerrillas who commit crimes after the pact’s signing would be tried in a normal court, losing the benefits afforded by the accord — such as a ban on extradition.

President Ivan Duque said he was “outraged” by the peace tribunal’s decision, warning that the case was not “closed” and that he was willing to authorize Santrich’s extradition.

The FARC, the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has denounced the accusations against Santrich as a “setup.” He has always proclaimed his innocence.

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Air strikes hit Yemen capital: rebels, witnesses

Sanaa (AFP) May 16, 2019

Warplanes struck in and around the rebel-held Yemeni capital Thursday two days after the insurgents claimed drone strikes that shut a key oil pipeline in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the rebels and witnesses said.

One witness told AFP he heard a loud explosion in the heart of Sanaa.

The rebels’ Al-Masirah television blamed “aircraft of the (Saudi-led) aggression”.

In an initial tweet, the broadcaster reported six strikes on the Arhab district of Sanaa province. It then reported further strike … read more

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