December 1, 2000

Death squad kills at least 36 Colombians

                  BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) -- A right-wing death squad killed at least 36
                  people in one of the worst attacks in years on civilians in Colombia's increasingly
                  brutal conflict, authorities said on Friday.

                  The toll from a raid by paramilitary gunmen on a small fishing community in
                  northern Colombia was still uncertain nine days after it occurred, however, with
                  one report indicating as many as 86 peasants may have been killed.

                  The bloodletting began at dawn on November 22 when men in combat fatigues and brandishing
                  automatic assault rifles stormed into the small town of Nueva Venecia, on the Caribbean coast,
                  and began calling out the names of townspeople on a "hit list" of alleged collaborators of Marxist rebels
                  operating in the area, police said.

                  At least 17 people were shot on sight, execution-style, in front of their neighbors, police

                  But bullet-riddled bodies have been turning up in the bay and marshlands around
                  Nueva Venecia ever since the initial death toll was reported. And a spokesman
                  for the chief prosecutor's office in the nearby port city of Santa Marta told
                  Reuters, in a telephone interview Friday, that the number of dead had risen to at
                  least 36.

                  National human rights ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes visited the town Friday,
                  and was expected to issue an official report before the weekend on the worst
                  peasant massacre in Colombia in at least three years.

                  In a preliminary report issued late Thursday, however, Cifuentes said accounts
                  from townspeople in the area spoke of 46 dead and more than 40 people missing
                  since the attack.

                  Nueva Venecia is in the heart of a fishing and banana-producing region where
                  communist-led rebels and ultra-right paramilitary groups have long battled for
                  territorial control.

                  Cifuentes said 2,000 people had fled the town since the attack by suspected
                  members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), Colombia's
                  leading paramilitary force.

                  Local and international human rights groups blame the AUC, commanded by
                  feared warlord Carlos Castano, for most of the peasant massacres and other
                  atrocities committed in a war that has taken 35,000 lives since 1990.

                     Copyright 2000 Reuters.