Page last updated at 07:37 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Colombia sacks troops over deaths

Columbian army
The sackings could just be the first stage in a wider scandal

The Colombian government has sacked three generals and 24 other soldiers over alleged extrajudicial killings.

They are suspected of being involved in the deaths of 11 young men from Bogota, whose bodies were found in mass graves in the north-east of the country.

Rights groups say they were kidnapped or lured with the promise of work, then killed in combat zones to inflate army statistics on rebels killed.

One of the sacked officers, Gen Jose Joaquin Cortes, denied the allegations.

He told Colombian radio: "I still absolutely believe in the innocence of my men."

The scandal broke last month, after the 11 civilians' bodies were found in communal graves in north-eastern Colombia.

The dismissed soldiers include three generals, 11 colonels, four majors, a captain, a lieutenant, and seven non-commissioned officers.

Officials had initially said 25 people had been sacked.

The head of Colombia's armed forces, Gen Freddy Padilla, read out their names at a news conference with President Alvaro Uribe and Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos.

11 young men disappeared from poor Bogota suburb in early 2008
Their bodies were found in mass graves near Venezuela border in August and September
Rights groups accuse the army of killing civilians to inflate successes

Mr Uribe said a military inquiry had determined they had been guilty at least of negligence that included allowing "the collusion of members of the army with criminals" in "the murder of innocents".

He added: "We cannot allow any violation of human rights."

No further details about the soldiers' alleged role were given. Mr Uribe said the cases would be turned over to prosecutors.

The 11 men disappeared from the poor Bogota suburb of Soacha early this year.

Their bodies were found in mass graves near the Venezuela border in August and September.

Sources in the attorney general's office said hundreds of soldiers were under investigation in similar cases.

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