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Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 21:41 GMT
Officers charged with massacre
Colombian soldiers
The army is often accused of collaborating with militias
Colombia's state prosecutor's office has charged 26 army and police officers with organising massacres, disappearances and other alleged human rights abuses in collaboration with paramilitary groups.

Two civilians - a former mayor and a council chairman - were also charged.

The offences were allegedly committed in the northwestern department of Antioquia - the site of fierce clashes between right-wing paramilitary groups and leftist rebels.

FARC guerrilla
Guerrillas have broken off negotiations
Human rights groups have often accused the Colombian armed forces of collaborating with the paramilitaries in the country's 37-year long civil conflict.

Colombia's biggest rebel group, the Armed Revolutionary Forces (Farc) has demanded the government take tougher action against paramilitaries as a condition to resume peace talks.

Official optimism

A statement from the prosecutor's office said the accused had used pagers to co-ordinate and participate in "acts of social cleansing, massacres and disappearances of people ... as well as other criminal acts".

But correspondents say charges such as these do not necessarily result in prosecution or prison sentences for those accused.

The state prosecutor's office can only recommend dismissing officers from their jobs. Criminal investigations fall to the attorney general's office or the military justice system.

In October, the armed forces undertook an unprecendented purge of almost 400 officers to "guarantee transparancy and cohesion", but it denied this was in response to US pressure to improve human rights.

The United States has made progress on human rights a condition of a $1.3bn anti-drug aid package for Colombia.

Last month the Farc - which also opposes the US aid package - suspended indefinitely negotiations with the government, accusing it of failing to halt paramilitary killings of leftists and guerrillas.

But the government has said it is confident that peace talks will resume soon.

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See also:

06 Dec 00 | Americas
More Colombians flee violence
16 Nov 00 | Americas
Colombia's peace laboratory
16 Oct 00 | Americas
Colombia's massive military purge
26 Aug 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Glamour in the jungle
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