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Colombian 'killings' shake army

25 October 08 05:20 GMT

Three Colombian colonels have been sacked for their alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings.

The colonels are suspected of killing 11 young men from Bogota and passing their victims off as combat casualties in order to gain promotions.

It is believed the three soldiers, from the elite 15th Mobile Brigade, kidnapped or lured the homeless men from the city with the promise of work.

But instead, the victims were taken to Norte de Santander province and killed.

The province, near the Venezuelan border, is where the 15th Mobile Brigade is stationed.

An investigation by the attorney general is now under way into the disappearances.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Medellin says the sacking of the three colonels could be start of a scandal that could spread through the army and threaten the security policy of President Alvaro Uribe.

There are reports of similar actions in different parts of the country, suggesting that this could be a widespread practice.

The Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos has sought to distance himself from the scandal, saying that there were elements of the army that were interested only in filling body bags and that this was not the policy of the government.

Mr Uribe, who had also sought to play down the reports of extrajudicial executions, was forced to admit that there was evidence of grave abuses of human rights in the army.

Sources in the attorney general's office said that hundreds of soldiers were under investigation in similar cases.

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