OAS to Monitor Disarmament Of Colombian Paramilitary Units
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
BOGOTA, Colombia, Jan. 25 -- The Organization of American States has agreed to monitor the disarmament of Colombia's paramilitary forces, lending significant international support to a peace process that has proved highly divisive.
OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, a former Colombian president, agreed in weekend talks with President Alvaro Uribe to send representatives here to verify a paramilitary cease-fire and help disarm the fighters following a negotiated agreement between the government and the militia. Gaviria likened the endeavor to the OAS mission in Nicaragua that oversaw the disarmament of 22,000 U.S.-backed insurgents in the 1990s.
But Gaviria's decision, made without consulting the 35 nations that make up the OAS, has angered some diplomats and human rights officials here who said it bestows international legitimacy on a process that remains a work in progress. Essential questions such as how paramilitary leaders would be punished, including those accused of massacring civilians, have yet to be resolved.
"There are many things up in the air, but we are not going to be involved in that part of it," Gaviria said in a telephone interview. "Many countries have doubts, and I have my own. But it's easy to criticize as an observer, and we want Colombia to go forward."
Uribe plans to disarm between 11,000 and 20,000 members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the paramilitary federation known as the AUC, by the end of 2005. He has argued that demobilizing the group, which makes much of its money from the drug trade, would remove a major illegal participant in the war and open the door for talks with two enduring Marxist insurgencies.
The AUC agreed to a cease-fire in late 2002, but several hundred civilian murders have been attributed to the group since then. Despite its harsh military tactics, the AUC enjoys strong political support in much of the country for its success against the leftist guerrillas, whom it has fought alongside the Colombian army.
The leaders of the AUC, Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso, are wanted in the United States for drug trafficking. The State Department, which has not taken a formal position on the peace process but has provided money for its earliest stages, has labeled the AUC a terrorist organization.
Last year, Uribe proposed legislation that would have allowed paramilitary leaders to avoid prison time, even those charged with grave human rights abuses. Colombia's Congress, which includes a number of AUC supporters, is debating the bill and considering revisions that would require fuller confessions and broader financial restitution for victims. But Castaño has suggested that demobilization talks would collapse if he and other AUC leaders, many of whom have benefited financially from the war, were imprisoned.
A Western diplomat familiar with the talks said Gaviria, whose term expires in September, had endorsed a process being dictated by AUC leaders. He said diplomats from OAS member countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Canada have expressed deep misgivings over Gaviria's commitment, which does not yet have financing.