By TIM JOHNSON
Herald Staff Writer
BOGOTA, Colombia -- President Andres Pastrana sacked an army brigadier
general on Thursday, nearly two weeks after the officer failed to halt a rampage by
right-wing militias in his area of command.
The firing of Brig. Gen. Alberto Bravo Silva marked the second
time this year
Pastrana has cashiered senior military commanders for human rights reasons.
Pastrana gave no reason for the firing. A decree from the presidential
simply that Bravo Silva had been sent into retirement.
But human rights monitors say the Pastrana administration is clearly
to U.S. demands that Colombia clean up the military of accused rights abusers
before vast new assistance for the beleaguered armed forces is released.
``It's a very welcome sign,'' said Robin Kirk of Human Rights
government acted in a speedy manner.''
Private militias swept into a coca-growing area along the northeast
Venezuela, near the village of Catatumbo, and killed at least 36 people on Aug.
21, while the army's 5th Brigade under Bravo Silva did nothing to stop them.
Dozens of other peasants have been killed in the same region since early June.
The massacre outraged local human rights groups and a United Nations
monitoring commission, which later said that they had warned Bravo Silva about
paramilitary threats to civilians in the area but he had failed to act.
``Bravo is an important general. We're talking about someone who
was in line to
become a top commander in the Colombian military,'' Kirk said.
In April, Pastrana cashiered two army generals, Rito Alejo del
Rio and Fernando
Millan, amid charges they had helped militia death squads in brutal ``cleansing''
campaigns against suspected leftists.
Colombia is seeking new U.S. assistance for its armed forces,
which are locked
in battle with two leftist insurgencies that roam through nearly half the country. In
July, Defense Minister Luis Fernando Ramirez asked Washington for $500 million
in aid over the next two years, a request that U.S. officials said they would
consider seriously. U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey also has suggested Colombia
should receive as much as nearly $600 million in increased U.S. aid, much of it
for the military.
Pastrana's quick action on Bravo Silva should be seen in light
of the aid requests,
said Winifred Tate of the Washington Office on Latin America, a rights and
democracy advocacy group.
``They are aware of the debates coming up before the U.S. Congress
military aid and they are very interested in portraying the army as being reformed,''
Even Bravo Silva, sounding unperturbed by his firing, told local
Colombia should do whatever is necessary to beef up the army.
``In current circumstances, the defeat of the guerrillas can come
only with the
strong growth of the armed forces,'' he said.