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Colombian Defense Minister Resigns Over Deadly Military Attack

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BOGOTÁ, Colombia—Eight children between 12 and 17 years old were killed in August in an aerial bombardment of a jungle camp operated by a drug-trafficking group, Colombian officials confirmed on Wednesday. By evening, the nation’s defense minister had submitted his resignation.

“It’s my duty as defense minister to adequately read the political situation, so I have decided to submit my resignation,”

Guillermo Botero

said in a statement.

A day earlier, during a heated congressional hearing, Sen. Roy Barreras revealed the medical examiner’s office’s determination that children were among more than 15 people killed in the Aug. 29 bombing in southern Colombia.

Congressional opponents of President

Iván Duque’s

government and its security policies harshly criticized Mr. Botero for not having made public the deaths of children, even though their identities had been known since September. The opposition had called the hearing to secure enough votes to oust Mr. Botero from the ministry, citing rising violence in Colombia’s countryside, including allegations of human-rights abuses by soldiers. A final vote had been expected next week.

“Minister, you hid this from Colombia,” Sen. Barreras told Mr. Botero.

The commander of the Colombian Army, Gen. Nicacio Martínez, at an Aug. 31 press conference in Bogotá, where he said 12 had died in the large military operation.


Photo:

Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda/EFE/Zuma Press

The minister has said that he did not know about the presence of children in the camp at the time of the attack but defended the strategy that was undertaken.

“Military operations are always developed in accordance with international standards,” he said.

In Puerto Rico, a town not far from where the bombing took place, it was well known that the armed groups were recruiting minors.

Herner Carreño,

a town auditor, had written several letters since May to the army warning about the problem.

“It’s their way of growing their numbers,” he said by phone, describing the drug group’s tactics. “The easiest way to do that is to recruit children, who are growing up in poverty. The only option the children have is to join the group.”

The bombing took place just hours after two former Marxist rebel commanders, breaking with their comrades over a peace pact, called on their followers to take up arms against the state.

“The fight continues,” one of the former commanders, Luciano Marin, who goes by Ivan Marquez, announced in a video. Authorities believed he and other so-called “dissident rebels” operated in the region where the camp was located.

Mr. Duque on Aug. 30 said he had authorized the attack on former guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who had continued their fight. He called the attack “strategic, meticulous, impeccable” and said that it had killed the leader of a group of “dissidents,” 

Rogelio Bolívar Córdoba,

better known by the nom de guerre Gildardo Cucho.

“That criminal was dedicated to narcotrafficking, kidnapping, intimidating social leaders,” the president said.

Weeks later, in September, authorities determined that children had been in the camp, but the information wasn’t publicly released. Guerrilla groups in Colombia have long been accused of forcibly recruiting children, as Mr. Botero’s most influential defender,

Sen. Álvaro Uribe,

said in the Tuesday hearing.

“If there are children in a terrorists’ camp, what are you supposed to think?” Mr. Uribe, a former president, said. “Did they get there, looking to play football, or were they recruited by the terrorists?”

Write to Juan Forero at [email protected]

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