(Translated by Deryn Collins, a CSN volunteer translator)
Medellin, March 1 (IPC) The self-confessed drug trafficker and paramilitary boss Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, who goes under the alias of ‘don Berna’, admitted in the South New Cork District Court, that there were alliances with high-level Army officials and Police in the raids of Comuna 13 (Municipality 13) in city of Medellin during Operation Orion, which took place between the 16th and the 19th of October, 2002.
Amongst the cited officials by ‘Don Berna’ are ex Army General Mario Montoya Uribe, who is currently the Colombian ambassador in the Dominican Republic, and ex General of the National Police, Leonardo Gallego, now retired.
´Don Berno’ asserted that “the Self Defense Forces of Bcn (bloque Cacique Nutibara) arrived in Comuna 13 as part of an alliance with the Cuarta Brigada del Ejercito, (4th Army Brigade), which included generals Mario Montoya, of the Army, and Leonardo Gallego, of the Police”.
For the duration of Operation Orion, General Montoya acted as commander of the 4th Army Brigade, with headquarters in Medellín, and General Gallego as commander of the Valle de Aburra Metropolitan Police.
In his declaration, Murillo Bejarano added that the bloque Cacique Nutibara was assigned as an anti-kidnap unit of Gaula to “assist its men in the joined forces during Operation Orion”, and said that the co-ordination of the military and the police to clear the area of FARC, ELN and the Comandos Armados del Pueblo (People´s Armed Commandos) militia was the responsibility of a man using the alias of ‘King Kong’.
These affirmations were contained in a letter sent to Judge Richard M. Berman, dated February 25th, sent by Murillo Bejarano, in which he tried to convince the judge to negate the statement of a female victim, whose son was forcefully disappeared days after Operation Orion, and to exclude this testimony and the proof in the sentencing hearing, and refute any type of economic compensation.
The process which allowed the possibility for a victim to participate in the trial of ‘don Berna,’ which was heard on the 4th of March before a federal court, was due to the steps taken by the Corporacion Juridica Libertad, (Corporation for Judicial Freedom), which is supported by the Legal Clinic for International Human Rights of Berkeley University of California.
The woman’s representatives, who were not identified for security reasons, affirmed that their client was the victim of a drug trafficking conspiracy committed by Murillo Bejarano against the United States. According to the legal motion presented before Judge Berman on the 17th of February, and which was processed in the Court, the paramilitary boss ordered the ‘disappearance’ and execution of residents of Comuna 13, including the son of the petitioner, with the end being to control a strategic corridor for drug trafficking.
In the letter to the North American judge, ‘Don Berna’ insisted on portraying Comuna 13 as an ”area controlled mostly by the Marxist guerillas that terrorize the area through kidnappings and assassinations. ” He also asserted that, ”the Marxist guerillas had established communist policies and structures in the area of Comuna 13, and that the FARC and the ELN held total control of the zone.”
Therefore, according to ‘Don Berna’ the occupation of this sector of the city by the ‘police, army and paramilitaries was done for political motives to eliminate the guerillas from the zone, in an effort to help the community’. He insisted on arguing that it was the ‘community and the State Security Forces’ that asked the bloque Cacique Nutibara for ‘help’ in ‘freeing the zone of guerillas’.
“As a result of the military forces in the zone,” Murillo Bejarano affirmed, “at least 20 of the people kidnapped by the guerillas were released.” While he admitted he commanded the bloque Cacique Nutibara, he said that “I did not order them to commit grave or unnecessary crimes in the zone, and only much later discovered that they had committed excessive crimes”.
This is the first time that this paramilitary boss, who held the position of Inspector General of the Auc, has spoken about Operation Orion. In his few hearings before public prosecutors of the Unidad de Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace Unit) held in Colombia, he had never broached the subject.
In ‘Don Berna´s’ letter to Judge Berman, his defense added the newspaper article published in The Angeles Times on the 25th March 2005, which revealed the contents of a report by the North American intelligence agencies, which affirmed that ex General Montoya and a group of paramilitaries carried out Operation Orion jointly.
To refute the arguments of the North American Prosecution Agency and the representatives of the victim, which indicate that Comuna 13 was infiltrated with the objective of protecting this strategic corridor for use by drug traffickers, ‘Don Berna’ explained to Judge Berman how the incursion was financed, and by doing so, incriminated members of the business community. However, he did not give any specific names.
According to the paramilitary boss, the finances of each Auc group depend on their own individual strategies for raising funds. In the case of the Cacique Nutibara block, he said that 70% of their funds came from gas stolen from the pipelines of Ecopetrol, which run through the rural neighborhood of San Cristobal, where the group had installed clandestine valves. The stolen gasoline was then sold in the city to transport companies.
“The Cacique Nutibara was also financed by contributions from rich businessmen, businesses and hotels, taxes from the buses and large companies, the money from the gasoline and taxes from drug traffickers’, he clarified.
He added that the Comuna 13 was not a strategic corridor, but that the road that crossed the rural neighborhood of San Cristobal was, “the quickest way of obtaining products outside of Medellin”. He also denied that his men were in any way allied with the Colombian authorities in promoting drug trafficking activities in the area of Comuna 13.
The statements made by ‘Don Berna’ to Judge Richard Berman confirm the charges, which went ignored by authorities, repeatedly made by affected communities in Colombia and the nongovernmental human rights organizations that work with them.
Agencia de Prensa IPC
(57 4) 569 84 25