August 18, 2002

Paramilitary leader: Colombian army killed fighters

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) --A regional commander of an outlawed
paramilitary force has accused an army soldier of executing 24 of his men
along a roadside in central Colombia.

Senior army officers have said they are investigating the commander's allegations.

The paramilitary commander, who goes by the nom de guerre Rodrigo, on Saturday
dismissed as a lie an army claim that the paramilitaries were killed during combat.

The right-wing paramilitaries and the U.S.-backed Colombian army often maintain
secret links and work together in attempts to crush Colombia's 38-year-old leftist

Rodrigo said in a telephone interview that a drunken soldier from the army's 14th
Brigade forced his men from a truck near Segovia village in Antioquia province on
the evening of August 9 and ordered them to kneel on the side of a road with their
hands behind their necks.

The soldier then opened fire on the men with a machine gun as some 25 other
soldiers looked on, Rodrigo said by phone from Segovia, 186 miles north of the
capital, Bogota.

Army officials have said 24 paramilitary fighters were killed during fighting that
broke out near Segovia on August 9, and that three soldiers were injured during the
alleged clashes. Rodrigo said the army soldiers were injured when 12 paramilitary
fighters returned fire while trying to escape.

Army commander Gen. Carlos Ospina rejected the paramilitary allegations but said
an investigation has begun. "I trust my soldiers completely," Ospina told Caracol
TV. "What the bandits say doesn't interest me."

An officer of the brigade, Col. Hector Hurtado, said a prosecutor in Segovia was
investigating the case. The prosecutor's office did not answer phone calls Saturday.

The United States, which provides millions of dollars in military aid as well as
training to the Colombian security forces, has insisted the army sever ties with the
paramilitaries, who have been accused of numerous massacres.

About 3,500 people were killed last year in Colombia's war.

  Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.