Colombian Lawmaker Assassinated in Bogota
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Motorcycle gunmen killed a lawmaker in the
capital on Monday, and suspected paramilitary attackers shot to
death a union leader at a U.S.-owned coal mine in northern Colombia, officials said.
News of the killings came only three days after a government-rebel agreement
raised hopes of an eventual cease-fire in Colombia's 37-year
Congressman Luis Alfredo Colmenares, slain as he drove his car along
an avenue of upscale shops in north Bogota, was the second member
of congress killed in a week. Police have not said who they believe killed Colmenares, a member of the opposition Liberal Party from
Arauca, an oil-rich but violent state near the Venezuelan border.
The right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, has been
moving into the state, long a bastion of leftist guerrillas. Last
Tuesday, another Arauca congressman, Octavio Sarmiento, was shot and killed by suspected AUC gunmen near his farm.
Defense Minister Gustavo Bell blamed ``dark forces who are silencing the voices of democracy.''
The slain labor leader, 39-year-old machine operator Gustavo Soler,
was president of the union representing workers at a coal mine in
northern Cesar state owned by Alabama-based, Drummond, Ltd. The company issued a statement deploring the killing.
Soler was shot two times by suspected paramilitary gunmen, Cesar state police said. His body was found Sunday.
The congressman's shooting in Bogota continues a wave of violence against
lawmakers. Five others have been killed in the past year. Four
are hostages of leftist guerrillas.
``Life in this country is worthless,'' a fellow member of congress, Jose Alfredo Escobar, said at the scene of the assassination.
According to Escobar, Colmenares -- an expert on energy issues -- was
traveling without bodyguards because he was on a leave of absence
from the congress, taking courses in the United States. He was in Colombia on a brief visit, Escobar said.
The congressmen was found slumped in his car, which had swerved to the side of the road after the attack.
Monday's shooting underscores rising tensions even as the government
and rebels claim to be making progress in peace negotiations. On
Saturday, Luis Alberto Pinzon, a physician who served on a peace panel recommending action against the paramilitaries, announced he was
fleeing the country due to AUC death threats.