Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie

ARMY AND POLICE CONTINUE TO ABUSE AND HARASS THE CIVILIAN POPULATION OF CATATUMBO

22 February 2007

The Association for Promoting Social Alternatives MINGA has notified the national and international public of new crimes and abuses of the police and military forces against the citizens of the Catatumbo region in Colombia.

The facts:

During the night of January 25th, 2007, a patrol from the national army’s 15th Mobile Brigade assassinated Mr. DAVID RAMIREZ, active member of the Junta de Acción Comunal de La Válvula. Officially, the military had an armed altercation with members of a guerrilla group, near a place known as “El Límite” in the municipality of Teorama, department of Norte de Santander. On January 27th the army reported this person as a “guerrilla killed in combat” and had transferred his body by helicopter to the municipality of Ocaña.

On the very same night of January 25th, another patrol of the 15th Mobile Brigade, without judiciary order, invaded and ransacked many houses on San José Road in Teorama municipality, where the military brought out six campesinos who were detained for numerous hours while being subjected to physical mistreatment and verbal humiliations. The military threatened both the detainees and community members that shortly there will be a “paramilitary incursion by the Águilas Negras”.

On January 26th, on Los Cedros Road in Teorama municipality, troops from the 15th Mobile Brigade disappeared and caused the death of 19 years old ANDERSON ALVAREZ VERGEL, a homicide committed when the victim descended from one of the mules he was pulling along, a movement that seemed suspicious to the military. After committing this crime, members of the army simulated combat by repeatedly firing shots with their firearms at a roadblock they had set up that morning. Furthermore, they reacted with aggression and intimidation to the people who had come out only to reclaim the body of the young Alvarez Vergel, who was well known in the community as hard working and honest and who acted as an older brother for the younger children. The corpse of young Alvarez Vergel was removed from the scene of the crime by the military in a helicopter and transferred to Ocaña, where they presented him as a “guerrilla killed in combat”.

Moreover, public forces repeatedly proceeded in illegal detentions of citizens of Catatumbo, illegitimately affecting the liberty and reputation of the victims. Amongst the recent cases of illegal detentions, we report the following:

Ø On the morning of January 26th, a patrol of the national army’s 30th Brigade arbitrarily detained young David Contreras Rincón, resident of Playa Cotiza, Tibú municipality. The detention happened with neither an order of arrest nor any flagrant offence by the victim. She was subjected to isolation and it is not known, at this time, whether or not she has been liberated.

Ø On January 23rd, police requisitioned a bus owned by a farmer’s collective. This vehicle regularly transports passengers and merchandise from the hamlet of La Vega de San Antonio in the La Playa municipality to Ocaña. It is the only mode of transport available between these destinations. The vehicle was retained in a place known as Acolsure. From there the 26 passengers were brought to the police station in Ocaña where they were identified, photographed and obliged to disclose their address and personal information about their families and occupation. After several hours of illegal detention, the police freed 22 people and decided to incriminate the 4 others, who are still detained. Since January 26th, the police have stopped the same bus every day (the only one that goes to Vegas de San Antonio) and proceeded the same way with the passengers aboard.

Furthermore, it has been consistent behaviour of the army to threaten Catatumbo citizens with the paramilitary group “Las Águilas Negras” who have recently installed themselves in the Alexandra residence and the Ariete quarter in the municipality of Convención, Norte de Santander, a threat that terrorizes and distresses the community, especially since the members of the paramilitary are well known delinquents. They have informed the community of being placed in these two strategic locations to exercise control on the region, and that all ‘informers’ must report to the following locations: one in the zone known as ‘Carrizal’, between Convención and the hamlet ‘La Trinidad’ in the municipality of Teorama, and the other in the hamlet of ‘La Válvula’ in the same municipality.

Faced with these facts, we call on:

- 1. The national government, the military forces and the police to protect the citizens of Catatumbo from the actions of the paramilitary group “Las Águilas Negras”; to neutralize and disband this growing group; to cease human rights violations that are perpetrated against the inhabitants of this region of Colombia.

- 2. The Fiscalía and the Attorney General of the nation to initiate penal and disciplinary investigations in order to clearly determine the above-mentioned facts, to pursue and hold accountable the responsible parties.

Bogotá, D.C. January 30th 2007

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