EL ESPECTADOR, March 30, 2022


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

In a military operation in Putumayo, aimed at capturing alias “Bruno”, the leader of the dissident group known as “Border Commandos”, two community leaders, the wife of one of them, and an adolescent 16 years old were killed. The government insists that they were “criminals”.

“They were civilians, not guerrillas,” the National Organization of Indigenous People of Colombian Amazonia (Opiac) complained about the deaths of 11 people in a military operation in Puerto Leguízamo (Putumayo Department). In spite of this very serious complaint, which once again puts the spotlight on the dark chapter of the false positives, the government immediately rejected any irregularity. The Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, answered on social media as follows: “The operation was not against campesinos, but rather against FARC dissidents. It was not against innocent indigenous people, but rather against narco coca growers.” But doubts about the version put forth by the Armed Forces are increasing.

The Public Defender, the United States NGO Human Rights Watch, among other agencies and organizations, have asked for an explanation of what happened in the town (vereda) of El Remanso, in Puerto Leguízamo. The community says that the Army stormed into a bazaar; the government says that it was an operation against FARC dissidents, and, on social media, Defense Minister Molano published a video where you can see several armed men dressed in camouflage and bags that might contain coca. A source familiar with the case said that these images could stigmatize and lead to erroneous conclusions if the story in Putumayo is not clarified.

It’s still not known whether at the community bazaar, which appeared to be going on, there were present any members of armed groups. For now, it’s been confirmed that the President of the town’s Community Action Board, Divier Hernández; his wife, Ana María Sarria, and the indigenous governor, Pablo Panduro Coquinche, were killed. Neither the Army nor the government has explained why it was that those three people, as well as an adolescent, 16 years old, ended up killed in the operation, which was really trying to capture Carlos Emilio Loaiza Quiñones, alias “Bruno”, chief of Front 48 of the FARC dissidents, a group known as the “Border Commandos”.

A source maintains that Hernández and Panduro held positions of leadership in the community. But Minister Molano has defended the operation and, without furnishing any names, insisted through social media that there were “criminals that attacked the soldiers”. He even tweeted with sarcasm: “From the ‘innocent civilians’ they seized an arsenal of war, grenades, rifles, supplies, and shells, among other things,”. For his part, a soldier who was wounded told his version of what happened: “Combat was initiated when I found myself facing a bandit dressed as a civilian. That’s how I got hurt, because I thought he was a civilian when I saw him take out a rifle, and he shot me.”

There are also versions on a different point: the bodies of the dead. Opiac has said that it was the Army that took them away, and no one knows where they are. Nevertheless, the Putumayo Secretary of Government said on March 30 on W Radio that the 11 bodies are in Mocoa, in the custody of the Forensic Medicine Unit, and that they have respected the chain of custody. A source indicated that the people that took away the bodies were agents of the Attorney General’s CTI (Technical Investigation Unit) who had accompanied the military operation that was intended to capture alias “Bruno”. The problem will be if those investigators are not authorized to do that.

The Attorney General’s Office is also progressing with the investigation, and has already sent a group of prosecutors to Puerto Leguízamo. The NGO Human Rights Watch announced that it is also investigating and one of its investigators, Juan Pappier told EL ESPECTADOR , “It’s urgent that the authorities make these events clear, and that they carry out their tasks professionally. It is irresponsible, at four days into the events, to be coming to conclusions and assuming that they were members of the dissidents, or that it was false positives. You have to investigate, and if there was anything irregular or criminal, those responsible must face justice.”

The Public Defender added himself to this call. The agency announced that it has been accompanying the affected families and will provide them with the necessary accompaniment. In particular, “they will receive legal representation though a public defender for victims in all of the procedures that result from these events,” announced the agency. The families of Divier Hernández and Ana María Sarria announced that they plan to sue the government, as they maintain that they were not “bandits”, as Minister Molano insisted. This recent episode once again calls into questionc the actions of the Colombian Army in a region that has been profoundly affected by the conflict and by the illegal crops.

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