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Thu Jul 17, 2014, 10:35 PM

"Guerrillas Killed in Combat" and the Colombian Military's Persistent Impunity

"Guerrillas Killed in Combat" and the Colombian Military's Persistent Impunity
by John Lindsay-Poland

At a public forum in the southern Colombian state of Huila this past January, Mothers told the stories of their sons who were murdered by the Colombian Army seven years prior. Amparo Pelaez’s son had recently finished his military service and worked unloading potatoes when he and a friend went to market and did not come back. The next day he was claimed by the army as a “guerrilla killed in combat.”

Transito Sarria spoke of her 28-year-old son Joselo, who worked as a driver and one morning promised to bring her breakfast at her job, but never arrived. A man called, making fun of her, and told her to check the morgue, where indeed she found her son’s body. The army said on the radio that they had killed a criminal.

Andrés Duarte returned to the town of Gigante, Huila with his mother one afternoon in April 2007. He then went out to play pool, never to return. The following day, Lt. Col. Jaime Lasprilla Villamizar claimed Duarte was another “guerrilla killed in combat,” along with four others.

All of these killings were known as “false positives”: homicides by soldiers of civilians claimed to be guerrillas or criminals and touted as operational successes by the military. They are among the 5,763 such homicides between 2000 and 2010 investigated by the Colombian Attorney General’s office or documented by human rights organizations. For the last several years, I have studied the context for this violence, using data on extrajudicial executions and U.S. military assistance compiled by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the Colombian Coordinación Colombia-Europa-Estados Unidos. Although the number of such “false positives” has diminished considerably as a result of local, national, and international outcry, such killings continue to be important for several reasons.


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