Skip to comments.Castano: Colombia Violence Was Inevitable - Pledged To Demobilize
Posted on 07/29/2003 1:01:00 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
BOGOTA, Colombia - Carlos Castano, chief of the paramilitaries that battled Colombia's rebel armies, has acknowledged his forces massacred civilians, extorted money and dealt drugs, but claimed those acts were "inevitable excesses" in a war to save the nation.
As his United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia prepare to disband as part of a peace agreement with the government, Castano sought to justify the tactics the outlawed right-wing militia group used to fight leftist rebels for nearly two decades.
In a message dated Sunday and posted on the Web site of the AUC, as the group is known by its initials in Spanish, the paramilitary chief claimed his fighters prevented guerrillas from taking over Colombia.
"We are not seeking gratitude," Castano said in the message. "We are satisfied with the results of our struggle."
Members of the AUC must "face up" to their actions either collectively or individually, Castano said. But he added: "No one here can summarily send the self-defense forces to jail."
Government peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo has said the government is endorsing a plan in which paramilitary leaders would avoid jail if they follow through on promises to disarm. The militia leaders could face alternative sanctions such as paying compensation to their victims' families, Restrepo said.
Castano has pledged to demobilize his estimated 12,000 fighters by the end of 2005, removing a brutal element in Colombia's war, now in its 39th year.
Paramilitary splinter groups, estimated at 6,000 fighters, have refused to join the peace process.
In his message, Castano said that during the AUC's campaign, "massacres were committed, we resorted to the finances of drug trafficking, we resorted to extortion, we practiced some acts of pillage and corruption."
He said he would not justify those acts by saying rebels also commit abuses.
The AUC did fight rebels in areas where the Colombian military had scant presence, but analysts have long said rebel forces lacked the strength to topple the government.
Colombia's two main rebel groups - who have committed massacres and kidnappings, attacked civilian targets and control much of the cocaine trade - have spurned appeals to cease fire and join peace talks.
The Colombian army reported Monday that rebels using explosives and firearms attacked a military base overnight in the village of Carmen de Apicala, 50 miles southwest of Bogota, the capital, killing three soldiers. Two soldiers and three civilians were wounded.
A letter from the Marxist-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, asked for a meeting with U.N. representative James LeMoyne to explain "a much more objective reality of Colombia's internal conflict."
"We are interest in explaining to you and your organization our opinions and proposals for solutions to avoid unnecessary deaths of more compatriots," said the letter, dated Thursday and said to be sent from the "Mountains of Colombia."
A U.N. spokesman told Reuters, "The secretary-general has been informed of a communication of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and considers it to be positive."
"He has always made clear that his good offices are available to the parties," the spokesman said.
LeMoyne, a former journalist and U.N. peace envoy, is Annan's special adviser on Colombia, a South American nation torn by nearly four decades of war between government forces, left-wing rebels and outlawed right-wing paramilitary groups.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has previously asked Annan to help find a way to end the conflict driven by a seemingly unstoppable trade in illegal drugs.
May. 21, 2003 - Debate surrounds U.N. (James LeMoyne) envoy Colombia quip *** BOGOTA, Colombia - Colombia's biggest rebel group says it is fighting on behalf of the poor for "a new Colombia." Authorities say they're just drug-trafficking bandits who kill innocent civilians.
So when U.N. special envoy James LeMoyne told a newspaper over the weekend he believes some of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels are ideologically committed, he touched off a storm of controversy.
Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez accused LeMoyne of "defending the interests of terrorists." Shocked business leaders accused LeMoyne of being out of touch with reality.
"What is certain is that (the guerrillas) are destroying the nation ... and we must end the debate," Eugenio Marulanda, head of the National Confederation of Chambers of Commerce, said Tuesday. "We are tired of hearing Mr. LeMoyne, who says many things that are true and other things that don't correspond with reality."
LeMoyne, in unusually blunt comments to two Colombian newspapers over the weekend, suggested the upper classes are not making enough sacrifices in Colombia's war, now in its 39th year. Most of the government soldiers fighting in the jungles and mountains of this South American country are the children of the poor.
"I have two questions for the upper class of this country to respond to," LeMoyne told the newspaper El Tiempo. "First: Are your sons, nephews or grandsons in the army? ... Who makes the sacrifices in this country when there is combat?"
LeMoyne also asked if the rich pay enough taxes, to better distribute the wealth in a country where 64 percent of its 44 million people live in poverty. He asserted that it is "a mistake to think that the FARC members are only drug traffickers and terrorists."
Those comments outraged many in government. Ramirez, the defense minister, noted that the rebels execute hostages - including a state governor, a former defense minister and eight captive soldiers who were killed on May 5 as the army tried to rescue them.
"What ideological commitment can justify a massacre of that nature?" Ramirez asked.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's spokesman defended LeMoyne on Wednesday at a news briefing in New York.
"It was not Mr. LeMoyne's intention to take sides," said spokesman Fred Eckhard. "If what he said was interpreted in that way, I think he is seeking to assure the government that he was not taking sides."
Polls regularly show little support for the rebels among Colombians.***
LeMoyne took sides a long time ago.