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The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"At least 22 people were hacked to death"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 18:44 GMT
Colombian general jailed for ignoring massacre
Government troops
The Army is often accused of turning a blind a eye to paramilitary violence
By Jeremy McDermott in Colombia

In an unprecedented move, the Colombian authorities have sentenced an army general to 40 months in prison for turning a blind eye to a paramilitary massacre.

A military tribunal said General Jaime Uscategui had been warned of an impending attack and did nothing about it.

Manuel Marulanda, founder of the FARC
The rebels demand more government action against paramilitaries
The conviction could not have come at a better time for President Andres Pastrana, under pressure to crack down on right-wing paramilitary groups.

Rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have demanded more government action against the paramilitaries as a condition for peace negotiations.

Murder orgy

In July 1997, 150 members of the paramilitary Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) swept into the town of Mapripan on the banks of the southern Guaviare River.

For five days, they indulged in an orgy of murder, killing up to 30 people they accused of being guerrillas collaborators.

President Pastrana
The conviction could not have come at a better time for President Pastrana
The exact death toll has never been ascertained, as the bodies were tossed into the river and never recovered.

Despite desperate telephone calls, General Uscategui, who was in charge of the region, refused to act.

He is the first general to be sentenced to a prison term for such a crime.

Appeal

General Uscategui has said he will appeal and that he has been dishonoured by the sentence.

A colonel, Hernan Orozco Castro, was sentenced to 38 months in prison for the same crime.

Lower ranks have been condemned for actually taking part in paramilitary massacres, but this ruling is regarded as significant, as it means that commanders can no longer get away with turning a blind eye to paramilitary activity.

This year has seen a new wave of paramilitary massacres, claiming over 200 lives.

President Pastrana, under massive pressure from the international community and the peace process with Marxist guerrillas, has vowed to crack down on the paramilitary death squads and sever links between the Colombian army and the paramilitaries.

Human rights groups have welcomed the sentence as a move in the right direction, but insist the sentence is too light and that there are many other cases that have been ignored or quashed by military courts.

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See also:

10 Feb 01 | Americas
Colombia peace talks to resume
04 Feb 01 | Americas
Analysis: FARC holds all the cards
18 Jan 01 | Americas
Villagers massacred in Colombia
13 Oct 00 | Americas
Abductees murdered in Colombia
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