EL ESPECTADOR, April 7, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
At the press conference, Minister Diego Molano grabbed the hot potato on behalf of the Army. The Commanders of the Armed Forces, for their part, let the Attorney General’s Office make the announcement about whether civilians had been killed. The investigators have already given the lie to the Army’s report of captures.
The Minister of Defense, and the Commanders of the Armed Forces took the heat after the controversy was set off last week from the town (vereda) of El Remanso in Puerto Leguísamo (Putumayo Department). In that region, 11 people, whose identities remain in dispute, were killed. While government agencies are defending it by saying they must have been dissidents, the Public Defender and indigenous organizations are complaining that they were just civilians. After the press conference, there remained one conclusion: for now, the Armed Forces won’t say if there were civilians among the dead.
“The proper authorities to determine what it was that happened there are the Attorney General and the Inspector General. The Attorney General’s Office, as was reported from the beginning, was present there and is the agency that is in charge of these investigations. From the beginning, a prosecutor who specialized in handling this kind of investigation has been appointed,” said General Luis Fernando Navarro, Commander of the Armed Forces.
After being questioned by the press, General Juan Carlos Guerra, Commander of the Army’s Aerial Assault Division, also had nothing to say about the presence—or not—of civilians in the town of El Remanso. “The military operation was targeting the 48th Front, and right now they are furnishing all of their reports to the Attorney General’s Office so that they can determine whether or not the people who were there were affiliated with dissident groups,” he explained.
According to the Minister of Defense, it was a legitimate operation that resulted from more than five months of planning. The intelligence was carried out by the Army and Navy, and was backed by a current arrest warrant related to the 48th Front of the FARC dissidents. “Early alerts by the Public Defender’s Office had specified that the Armed Forces ought to be taking action against that gang. This was an operation that our Armed Forces had to do,” said Molano.
Last March 28, Defense Minister Molano himself initially stated that “nine criminals had been neutralized,” and another four had been captured. However, in the afternoon of April 6, the Attorney General denied that that was the case. In a public statement, he explained that he had received the report that there were 11 dead bodies and, contrary to what the government had announced, he cautioned that the military staff in charge of the operation had not reported any captures; nor had it furnished documents that could support Molano’s statement about apprehensions.
“With regard to the report about four people turned over to the prosecutors, it states: We have only received information about three people wounded, and the body of a child recovered. The Attorney General’s Office has not yet assigned personnel who would have to be present at a preliminary hearing,” the agency explained. Juan Pappier, an investigator for Human Rights Watch, added that Molano definitely had been lying. In addition, he explained as follows, “we have credible evidence that strongly suggests that at least four of the 11 killed were civilians.”
The day of the operation in Putumayo, Minister @Diego_Molona said that they had “captured” 4 criminals
The truth: there were no captures. The 4 wounded were taken to a clinic. There was never any capture procedure. 3 have been released all of them are free.
Diego Molano Aponte @Diego Molano
#ATTENTION: Thanks to an offensive operation by the Armed Forces, which is continuing, against the FARC dissidents, we have neutralized 9 criminals and captured 4 more in Puerto Leguízamo, Putumayo. #With all of our Forces, we will protect Colombia from these #SymbolsofEvil.
What happened in Puerto Leguísamo?
The crosswise versions were issued last March 30, when he talked at the press conference at the National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC). The Defense Minister was asked to retract his statement, because the dead were campesinos, and one of them answers to the name of Pablo Panduro Coquinche, an indigenous authority in the region. “They were civilians, not guerrillas,” stated one of the spokesmen for the organization. OPIAC added that the Army arrived at a bazaar, where they were raising funds for the needs of the town.
After that, the Head of State, President Iván Duque, blindly defended the military operation, arguing that the deaths were part of the pursuit of alias “Bruno”, who is the leader of the Segunda Marquetalia in Putumayo. “The evidence furnished also shows clearly that the criminals were there. They had weapons, and what pains us is that some of our men were seriously wounded in the exchange of fire,” Duque concluded.
The Defense Minister, Diego Molano, was insistent in claiming that the dead were not campesinos, and much less “innocent indigenous people.” In his social networks he showed a video, with the title “Legitimate Operation”, which according to him, showed the bazaar mentioned by OPIAC. In addition, he furnished photos of pistols, rifles and 5.56 caliber ammunition that would correspond to those found in the operation. Since then, agencies have claimed that this is not a case of false positives.
Diego Molano Aponte
@COL_ARMY reports: the operation was not against campesinos, but rather against FARC dissidents. It was not against innocent indigenous people, but rather against narco coca growers. There was no bazaar, but rather criminals that were attacking soldiers. We are defending Colombians. #PetroLiar Which side are you on? #Legitimate Operation.
Gustavo Petro @petrogustavo
This is not neutralization, Mr. President Duque. This is murder.
There were not 11 members of the FARC. They were campesinos, and unarmed civilian indigenous people, including children.
This is a war crime by your administration.
In my administration, there will definitely be no more false positives.
March 30, 2022
The Public Defender’s Office, nevertheless, by means of a public statement, requested a prompt investigation by the authorities and lamented the deaths of 11 people. He reported, after a field audit, that the President of the Community Action Board had been killed, as well as his wife and a 16-year-old teenager. A governor of the indigenous people, Pablo Panduro, was also killed, as well as other people that were known by his agency to be civilians. The statement made no mention of people that had taken up arms.
There is so much uncertainty that politicians like Senator Iván Cepeda, and the human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) have requested information by means of a petition. At first, they were told that ten of the bodies were of adults and that the remaining one was the minor that the Public Defender had mentioned. There are ten men and one woman, whose deaths were classified as the variable “military action” according to the information required by the Forensic Medicine Unit.
HRW, for its part, sent a petition to the Minister of Defense with 19 questions. “Which Unit took part in this operation? How many men were actually on the ground and took part in the operation? Did they have support by military, naval, and/or personnel in helicopters? Relate the circumstances of time, place and manner in which the military operation was carried out. Give the precise number of people that were ‘neutralized’ and, if they were part of an armed group, identify the armed group they belonged to, and identify each (names, surnames, age and citizenship (I.D.) number” are some of the questions.
The most recent information we have is that the Commanding General of the Armed Forces opened a disciplinary investigation last April 4 of the Army’s Drug Trafficking and Transnational Threats Command. They were the ones deployed to this military action against the supposed dissidents that were followers of alias “Bruno”, who, for the Public Defender and OPIAC, are campesinos from the Putumayo region.