Published on Tuesday, December 5, 2000 by Agence France Press
UN Human Rights Chief Urges Colombia To Stop Right-Wing Militias
BOGOTA -The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, meets with civil rights activists here Tuesday in her investigation of human rights conditions in war-torn Colombia.
Robinson, who is wrapping up a two-day visit, met Monday with Pastrana and top government officials to hear their report on human-rights conditions in the war-torn country.
The Colombian officials told Robinson that illegal armed groups are the main violators of human rights in Colombia, and they said they were holding firm to their commitment to resolve armed conflict through negotiation.
Robinson expressed support for the government's peace efforts with leftist rebels but said she was concerned about paramilitary groups and the escalation of violence in Colombia.
She condemned the slaughter last week of some 50 fishermen in northern Colombia by members of the Self-Defense Units of Colombia (AUC) and urged Pastrana to take concrete steps to deactivate such groups.
After their meeting, Vice President, Gustavo Bell, who is in charge of human rights policy, said Pastrana had agreed to a UN recommendation for independent monitoring of his government's human rights defense program.
In an interview Sunday with the Bogota daily El Tiempo, Robinson said the government should "continue to sever and prosecute any ties that might exist between public servants" and paramilitary groups.
Pastrana said his government had taken steps to neutralize the right-wing death squads, to sanction state agents linked to them and to protect people intimidated by such groups, including humanitarian and union leaders, politicians and journalists.
Colombian Defense Minister Luis Fernando Ramirez admitted Saturday that some former soldiers had joined the AUC.
Rebel and paramilitary violence, meanwhile, continued unabated Monday.
Former development minister Fernando Araujo was kidnapped in the Caribeean port city of Cartagena late Monday by six unknown assailants, according to police reports quoted by Caracol radio.
Araujo served for a year-and-a-half after Pastrana was elected in August 1998. He was the latest in a long list of local and federal officials to have been killed, kidnapped or intimidated by armed groups.
Paramilitaries are waging a bitter war with leftist rebels in several regions of Colombia. Civilians are often targeted, as each side perceives them as being allied with the other.
Humanitarian leaders have charged that paramilitary groups exist in Colombia because top army leaders and business executives promote and finance them.
They claim the violence has spiraled out of control of the state, which, they say, paramilitary groups and their supporters view as weak.
Robinson is scheduled to leave later Tuesday for Santiago, Chile, where she is to attend a meeting in preparation for a world summit on racism.
Copyright © 2000 AFP