December 4, 2000

U.N. urges Colombia to fight death squads

                  BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) -- The United Nation's top human rights official
                  accused the Colombian government Monday of doing little to stop killings by
                  right-wing paramilitary groups involved in the Andean nation's increasingly
                  savage internal conflict.

                  "The government, despite a commitment voiced to me very strongly today, has
                  not in practice tackled adequately the violence by paramilitary groups," said
                  U.N. human rights official Mary Robinson, referring to the outlawed United
                  Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

                  Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights since 1997, spoke to
                  reporters as she wrapped up a two-day fact-finding visit to Colombia.

                  Local and international rights groups have repeatedly blamed the AUC for most
                  of the civilian massacres and other atrocities in a three-pronged war pitting
                  paramilitaries and state security forces against Marxist guerrillas.

                  President Andres Pastrana has pledged to crack down on paramilitary militias, which kill leftists
                  and suspected rebels in a "dirty war" allegedly backed by state security forces.

                  But in what were thought to be the United Nation's most critical comments on the subject
                  yet, Robinson said the government needed to do more.

                  "I'm aware of certain commitments made but I'm looking at the practical implementation and I
                  would have to say I have grave concerns about the process of tackling this problem in an
                  effective way," Robinson said.

                  In her remarks, she specifically referred to the need for bringing AUC warlords to justice and
                  "breaking the impunity" with which the paramilitaries operate.

                  Harsh words for rebels

                  Robinson's visit came less than two weeks after suspected right-wing gunmen killed at least 36
                  people in a fishing community in northern Colombia in one of the worst attacks on civilians
                  in Colombia's war, which has claimed the lives of 35,000 civilians since 1990.

                  The death toll in the Caribbean town of Nueva Venecia is still uncertain, with
                  some reports indicating as many as 86 peasants may have been killed.

                  Robinson, who served as Ireland's president from 1990 to 1997, also had harsh
                  words for the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which
                  she accused of violating international humanitarian law with their "deplorable"
                  national campaign of kidnappings.

                  "International humanitarian law in not negotiable," Robinson said. "I directly urge
                  upon members of the FARC the importance of adhering to their responsibilities,
                  which are clearly to have regard to the standards of international humanitarian
                  law, which are binding on them."

                  Last month, the FARC, the hemisphere's largest surviving guerrilla army, ended
                  nearly two years of peace talks with the government, accusing Pastrana of
                  failing to halt paramilitary "terrorism."

                     Copyright 2000 Reuters.