|US wants Colombia to get tough on rights abusers|
July 27, 2005
By Hugh Bronstein
BOGOTA, Colombia, July 27 (Reuters) - Colombia must aggressively prosecute human rights atrocities and ensure that right-wing paramilitaries who are guilty of murder are brought to justice, a top U.S. government official said on Wednesday.
Nicholas Burns, U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, told Reuters he expected "tough" implementation of the government's new law governing the disbandment of the country's violent, drug-running militias.
"We think it has to be implemented in a very aggressive, very tough way because, while peace is the reason for a program like this, justice is important as well," the No. 3 State Department official said following a Bogota news conference after a two-day visit to the Andean country.
Some U.S. congressmen have said the demobilization law, which offers reduced jail time to paramilitary criminals who turn in their arms, goes too soft on them and does little to dismantle their criminal networks.
Charges will be brought against those who have evidence against them pointing to crimes such as murder, massacre or drug trafficking.
Since the 1980s the "paras" have helped Colombia's army beat back the country's Marxist insurgents, often killing civilians they accuse of cooperating with the guerrillas.
The government has promised to break the connection between the army and the paramilitaries but human rights groups fear the links continue.
Both the rebels and their paramilitary foes fund themselves through Colombia's huge cocaine trade, which the United States has spent more than $3 billion in recent years trying to combat through an aid program called Plan Colombia.
Burns also said he expects Colombia to get to the bottom of cases like the February massacre in San Jose de Apartado, a northern town where residents accuse the army, backed by paramilitaries, of hacking three children and five adults to death with machetes, a charge the army denies.
"We would like to see expeditious prosecution," Burns said. "That is import to the families of the victims and it is also important symbolically."
He said there was a "bright focus" on human rights in his talks with the government.
"I received very detailed explanations of the government's position on each of these cases and of the steps the government intends to take to bring them to a rapid conclusion," Burns added. "I am satisfied that the president is dedicated to resolving these cases."
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