HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Massacre Stuns Colombia
Pubdate: Sun, 18 Jun 2006
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2006 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Joshua Goodman, The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


JAMUNDI, Colombia -- On a dirt road dotted with country homes near 
the western city of Cali, three trucks carrying an elite squad of 
anti-narcotics police pulled up to the gates of a psychiatric center 
for a planned raid about an hour before dusk.

Within minutes, all 10 officers in the U.S.-trained unit were dead in 
a ferocious attack that stunned Colombians and severely embarrassed 
President Alvaro Uribe just as he was savoring a crushing re-election victory.

That's because the alleged killers were no typical outlaws. The 
gunmen firing from roadside ditches and from behind bushes were a 
platoon of 28 soldiers who unleashed a barrage of some 150 bullets 
and seven grenades, according to a ballistics investigator.

An 11th man, an informant who led the police squad to the scene 
promising they would find a large stash of cocaine, was also found 
dead. When investigators removed his ski mask, they found a bullet 
hole in his head.

In the hours after the May 22 ambush, the head of the army stood by 
his men, calling the massacre a tragic case of friendly fire, with 
the soldiers likely having mistaken the armed police for leftist 
rebels known to operate in the area.

But the nation's chief criminal investigator quickly produced a more 
chilling motive.

"This was not a mistake, it was a crime -- a deliberate, criminal 
decision," Chief Federal Prosecutor Gen. Mario Iguaran told a shocked 
nation June 1. "The army was doing the bidding of drug traffickers."

The same day, eight soldiers, including the colonel who commanded 
them, were arrested, based largely on evidence obtained by agents of 
the federal prosecutor's office. With the investigation expanding, 
seven more soldiers were ordered to turn themselves in Saturday. All 
will face charges of aggravated homicide.

"You could hear the police shouting they had families and begging the 
soldiers not to shoot," said Arcesio Morales, 56, a patient at the 
psychiatric center who hid in a ditch during the 30-minute fusillade.

U.N. findings

The allegation of a premeditated massacre follows findings by the 
United Nations and human-rights groups that Colombia's military is 
behind a recent wave of disappearances and killings of unarmed civilians.

Together, the charges have damaged the credibility of an army on 
which Uribe has leaned heavily in a remarkably successful effort to 
reduce rebel attacks and kidnappings for ransom. The ambush also drew 
a rare rebuke from Colombia's backers in the U.S. Congress, which has 
approved $4 billion in mostly military and anti-narcotics aid since 2000.

But despite public outrage over the killing of the squad, and to the 
dismay of senior police officials, Uribe has not reprimanded top 
military brass. That baffles many people, considering he has 
dismissed 11 army generals since taking office in 2002 for far lesser 
acts of negligence.

"What took place in Jamundi changes your thought process," said 
Iguaran, the chief federal prosecutor. "Previously I had the 
impression that the human-rights abuses, if inevitable in every army 
throughout the world, wasn't a real problem in Colombia. Now I have my doubts."

The scandal has reinvigorated allegations that troops were involved 
in a wave of killings of civilians who the army claimed were rebels 
killed in combat.

This month an army captain and three subalterns were arrested in 
Antioquia state on suspicion of masterminding the June 1 abduction of 
salesman Saul Manco Jaramillo, who was snatched from a taxi. He 
hasn't been seen since.

In Washington, D.C., Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., proposed cutting 
U.S. aid to Colombia's military and police next year by $30 million, 
a symbolic 5 percent. It is time "to send a powerful message to the 
Colombian armed forces that we won't keep writing blank checks ... 
that we're not a cheap date," he said.

His proposal failed, although 174 congressmen supported it. The vote 
coincided with the State Department's certification that the 
Colombian army is making progress in rooting out abuses within its 
ranks, despite a spotty record and a long history of abetting 
illegal, right-wing paramilitary groups.

Army's version

Although the investigation into the police ambush is still 
proceeding, the army's version that it was a case of friendly fire 
didn't add up.

The massacre took place in broad daylight, in a clearing where the 
green ball caps and vests of the police should have been easily 
visible. A conversation can be heard from more than 50 yards away in 
the quiet rural area.

Investigators in the federal prosecutor's office in Cali also said 
that when police reinforcements arrived they were driven back by gunfire.

Some of the victims were shot in the back and at a range of only a 
few yards, ballistics investigators said.

Investigators said they also found evidence in text messages sent 
from the cellphone of Col. Bayron Carvajal, the highest-ranking 
soldier arrested in the case.

Although in Cali at the time of the attack, Carvajal was in close 
contact with his troops, ordering his sergeant in one message sent 
the day before to "pull back the ambush. ... everything is set for 
tomorrow," the investigators said.

The next day, they said, as the police raid was being prepared, the 
colonel sent another message suggesting that he knew about the 
informant: "Prepare for the group arriving with the chicken."

A senior law-enforcement official, also speaking anonymously, 
suggested the soldiers might have been providing cover for a meeting 
between high-level members of the North Valley drug cartel, 
Colombia's top cocaine traders.
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