Page last updated at 21:57 GMT, Saturday, 1 August 2009 22:57 UK

Judge jails 15 Colombian soldiers

File photo of forensic experts at work
Bodies were exhumed as the alleged atrocities were investigated

A Colombian judge has sentenced 15 soldiers to up to 30 years in prison for killing civilians and presenting them as rebels.

The case involved two restaurant workers killed in 2006.

The soldiers were among those accused of "false positives", in which killings were faked to claim success against rebels or drug cartels.

The Colombian attorney general's office is investigating more than a thousand such murders.

Among those sentenced on Saturday were an officer, three subordinates and six ordinary soldiers who were found to have taken part in the killing of the two restaurant workers and were sentenced to 30 years.

Five others were sentenced to four years in jail for covering up details about the case.

The men disappeared on their way home from work in May 2006. Their bodies were later presented as rebels killed in combat.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott reports from Medellin that the army abuses have hurt the human rights reputation of the security forces and the government of President Alvaro Uribe.

Investigators say there could be anything up to 1,500 civilian victims, with more cases being reported all the time.

Most victims are poor or homeless people, often lured to their deaths by promises of employment.

The government insists that the practice has been stopped, our correspondent says.

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