Page last updated at 08:09 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 09:09 UK

Colombia 'blocking militia probe'


Colombia 'blocks militia probe'

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Colombian government of blocking investigations into alleged links between paramilitaries and politicians.

Thousands of demobilised fighters have given evidence implicating more than 60 of President Alvaro Uribe's supporters, including his cousin Mario.

HRW, a New York-based group, said Mr Uribe's government was "sabotaging" the investigation - a claim he has denied.

The government later said the report was "ridiculous" and "full of lies".

"The men and women of Colombia want total clarity and quickly about the circumstances around the violence against institutions and the population by armed groups," the vice-presidency said. "To pretend that this is not the interest of the government is ridiculous."

"The government believes that these and other clear falsehoods in the report are due to problems of reading comprehension by those who typed it because it refuses to believe that these impressions are due to bad intentions," it added.

'Powerful friends'

Colombia's right-wing Paramilitaries have been accused of extensive abuses during the long-running civil conflict.

The burden is now on the Uribe administration and Colombia's institutions of justice to ensure that paramilitaries, as well as their accomplices, are held accountable
Jose Miguel Vivanco
Human Rights Watch

The HRW report, entitled "Breaking the Grip? Obstacles to Justice for Paramilitary Mafias in Colombia," claims that President Uribe's administration was "jeopardising efforts to secure justice".

"Colombia's justice institutions have made enormous progress in investigating paramilitaries and their powerful friends," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, one of the authors.

"But the Uribe administration keeps taking steps that could sabotage these investigations."

HRW said such measures included making baseless accusations against members of the Supreme Court, which is running the investigation, and blocking efforts to reform Congress to eliminate paramilitary influence.

The group also said the extradition to the US of 14 paramilitary leaders in May this year had interrupted ongoing investigations.

Mr Uribe has denied any obstruction and said his government had "combated the paramilitaries with more force, effectiveness and decisiveness than any other in Colombia's history".

'Efforts squandered'

Several dozen Congressmen, all of them supporters of Mr Uribe, are already being investigated over alleged links with paramilitaries.

United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC)
Thousands of former fighters have given evidence to the investigation

They were named in the testimonies of demobilised fighters who agreed to confess in exchange for reduced jail terms.

Mr Vivanco said international pressure was crucial to ensure that efforts made by prosecutors were not "squandered".

"The burden is now on the Uribe administration and Colombia's institutions of justice to ensure that paramilitaries, as well as their accomplices, are held accountable," he said.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia says the failure so far to uncover the true nature of the paramilitary activity could be one of the reasons behind a recent growth in such groups.

A new generation of paramilitary groups dedicated to drugs trafficking has sprung up, with up to 8,000 members, our correspondent says.

Paramilitaries emerged during Colombia's four decade-long civil war.

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