Army chief resigns amid abuse claims Print
Wednesday, 22 February 2006 00:00
BOGOTA - Colombian army commander Gen. Reinaldo Castellanos was forced to resign Tuesday amid a scandal in which 21 soldiers were allegedly beaten, branded or sexually assaulted by their superiors.

President Alvaro Uribe named Gen. Mario Montoya, the military joint chiefs commander for the Caribbean [and an SOA graduate], in his place, a statement from the president's office said.

Castellanos told local W Radio he resigned because his higher-ups ``told me I have to quit.''

The alleged abuses came to light over the weekend when rookie soldiers testified in the news magazine Semana that they were branded by training instructors with red-hot pokers, had their faces shoved into cow dung or were, in at least one case, sexually assaulted.

Photos in the magazine showed one soldier with what looked to be serious burns on his face.

Uribe immediately criticized his military, saying Monday that ``it's deplorable that the army, in this crucial moment in our country's history, has engaged in such painful and very serious misconduct.''

He also criticized the military for not immediately notifying the public about the alleged abuses, which reportedly occurred Jan. 25. Army officials told the media of the accusations Saturday, just hours before the Semana magazine report was due to hit the newsstands.

Four instructors were arrested by military police and several high-ranking officers have been implicated in the scandal at the military base where the abuse reportedly took place in Piedras, 60 miles west of the capital of Bogot?.

While the military said Monday it planned to deal with the matter internally, Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguaran said that his office has decided to handle the case following Castellanos' departure. He said the military brass told him there would be no objections.

''There's no relationship between the alleged crimes and military service,'' Iguaran said in a statement.

The Colombian army has been battling leftist guerrillas for 41 years in a war that claims thousands of lives each year. The rebels are fighting in the name of social revolution, but are also involved in drug trafficking and are on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

Castellanos, 55, became the army's top commander in November 2004. He was well-respected as army chief and U.S. military officials in Bogot? in the past described him as one of Colombia's most competent and intelligent field commanders.

Read more background information about SOA graduate General Montoya Uribe. Sean Donohue wrote a 2002 article about meeting with Montoya in Colombia during a 2001 delegation.
Last Updated on Thursday, 16 March 2006 11:45