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The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Bogata
"The armed forces head said the move was unprecedented"
 real 28k

Monday, 16 October, 2000, 23:10 GMT 00:10 UK
Colombia's massive military purge
Colombian army unit
The Colombian army is accused collusion and corruption
The Colombian military has sacked nearly 400 officers and soldiers in the biggest ever purge of the armed forces, but it denied this was in response to US pressure to improve human rights.

President Andres Pastrana granted the military powers to fire soldiers for misconduct in September.

On Monday, the Defence Minister, Luis Fernando Ramirez, refused to expand on the reasons why 89 officers and 299 rank-and-file members of the army, navy and air force had been dismissed.

US navy unloafds cocaine haul
US navy seized 5,300 pounds of Colombian cocaine in September

"This has nothing to do with recommendations of a foreign government," the defence minister insisted in an apparent reference to the United States.

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

Most of the resources promised are for the armed forces to boost the war against drugs.

Opposition

Many human rights groups say US money should not be going to the Colombian military because the army is alleged to maintain close ties with outlawed paramilitary death squads.

A civil war in the country has seen 35,000 killed in the past 10 years.

Left-wing rebels are fighting right-wing paramilitaries and government forces.

The military's official policy is to fight the paramilitaries as well as the rebels, but allegations of collusion and corruption are rife.

President Pastrana has fired several army generals since he took power in 1998.

But Armed Forces chief General Fernando Tapias has said these latest sackings are unprecedented and would "guarantee transparency and cohesion" in the 150,000- member forces.

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See also:

21 Sep 00 | Americas
Colombian army frees hostages
09 Sep 00 | Americas
Hijacked Colombian plane released
18 Sep 00 | Americas
Mass abduction from Cali restaurants
29 Aug 00 | Americas
US commits to Colombia
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