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Last Updated:10/25/01
Letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell from Senators Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) and Barbara Boxer (D-California), September 6, 2001
September 6, 2001

Secretary Colin Powell
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary:

As the Senate prepares to take up the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) in the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill of 2002, we remain deeply troubled by the increasing paramilitary violence in Colombia and close links between members of the Colombian military and illegal paramilitary groups. While it is clear that more must be done to prevent abuses by guerrilla groups such as the FARC and ELN, it is equally clear that the majority of gross human rights violations are being committed by paramilitary forces. Although the Colombian government has recently identified the paramilitary forces as potentially the most significant threat to Colombia in the coming years, much remains to be done to effectively respond to this threat. During the debate surrounding Plan Colombia, the U.S. and Colombian governments pledged to work to reduce the production and supply of cocaine while protecting the human rights of ordinary Colombian citizens against abuses by both guerrilla and paramilitary groups. While we did not ultimately agree on the wisdom of having our government provide such a large military package to Colombian security forces that have yet to break longstanding ties with paramilitary units, we do agree on the need to forcefully curtail human rights abuses committed by these paramilitary forces.

We are particularly disturbed by the brutality and large number of paramilitary massacres that have occurred since January. The paramilitaries have gone on the offensive this year, violently expanding their control in the city of Barrancabermeja, the Departments of Putumayo, Bolivar and Cauca, and in many other regions. There have been credible press reports of several massacres by paramilitaries, including the January 17th massacre of at least 25 people in Chengue, Sucre department; the March 30th abduction and presumed killing of 30 people from the town of Llorente, Nariño department; the April 12th chainsaw massacre in Alto Naya, Cauca department; and the August 16th killing of 12 civilian farmers in Santo Tomas, Antioquia department. Recent reports out of Antioquia are especially distressing. Right-wing paramilitaries are said to have stepped up their campaign of violence by blockading various districts in the province, located in northwest Colombia. Over 80,000 people are believed trapped in the besieged zone, many without access to food or petrol, and are accused of harboring rebel units.

While the subsequent arrest of dozens of paramilitaries who allegedly participated in the Naya killings is important, it represents only the first modest step of many that must be taken to combat paramilitary violence. In the future, whenever possible, forceful preventative actions must be taken before the bloodshed begins.

We continue to hear repeated reports of military-paramilitary collusion throughout Colombia. The ongoing links between members of Colombia's military and the paramilitaries can be seen most recently in the failure of the military to take action to stop the killings in Barrancabermeja. In its human rights report for 2000, the State Department noted that "Members of the security forces collaborated with paramilitary groups that committed abuses, in some instances allowing such groups to pass through roadblocks, sharing information, or providing them with supplies or ammunition." The Department also found that, "Credible reports persisted of paramilitary installations and roadblocks near military bases; of contacts between paramilitary and military members; of paramilitary roadblocks unchallenged by military forces; and of military failure to respond to warnings of impending paramilitary massacres or selective killings."

Because of the close military partnership the United States has developed with Colombia in the effort to curb drug production and trafficking, we believe our government has an obligation to monitor the paramilitary situation ñ particularly links between the paramilitaries and members of the security forces ñ and to work with the Colombian government to implement effective policies to stop paramilitary violence. The expanded paramilitary violence this year, and their increasingly brutal tactics, confirm that paramilitaries pose one of the most fundamental obstacles to peace and democracy in Colombia.

We call on you to urge the Colombian government, privately and publicly, to take specific and immediate steps to gain control over the paramilitaries. Such measures should include capturing and prosecuting paramilitary leaders for whom arrest warrants have long been pending, dismantling paramilitary bases, defending the civilian population from previously announced paramilitary massacres, and prosecuting financial supporters of the paramilitaries. Military and police personnel credibly accused of collaborating with the paramilitaries should be immediately suspended from duty, their records reviewed, and if appropriate, they should be prosecuted in civilian courts and punished. Decree 324, establishing a center to coordinate a campaign against self-defense and other illegal groups, should be implemented, and additional assistance should be provided to investigators and judges, who at great personal risk undertake the difficult task of indicting and prosecuting those responsible for paramilitary violence.

We recognize that the Pastrana government has taken some steps in combating paramilitaries, including the arrest of more than 300 paramilitary members in the last year. However, we believe much more must be done, and we stand ready to work with you toward that end.

Further, we believe that guerrilla groups deserve condemnation for severe human rights abuses throughout Colombia. In the designated distension zone in Southern Colombia, for example, the FARC has abducted and threatened residents, committed extrajudicial executions and recruited children for combat. Outside the zone, the FARC has been equally abusive, killing nearly 500 civilians nationwide and kidnaping hundreds more for ransom.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Paul D. Wellstone
United States Senator

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

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