Death squad kills six in latest Colombia massacre

28 September 1999

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BOGOTA -- Ultra-right gunmen massacred at least six peasants and abducted six others in a raid on a farming community in war-torn northwest Colombia, officials said on Tuesday.

The killings, which took place on Monday near the village of Guadalupe in Antioquia province, followed a mass slaying in northeastern Colombia earlier in the day.

At least seven people were slain before dawn in Santander province by unidentified gunmen in a working class neighbourhood of Barrancabermeja, the main oil-refining town.

A municipal human rights official blamed the Guadalupe attack on one of the burgeoning right-wing death squads or paramilitary gangs that routinely target suspected Marxist guerrilla sympathisers.

Colombia's long-running civil conflict between guerrillas, paramilitary gangs and the military has claimed at least 35,000 victims, many of them civilians, in the past 10 years.

The latest killings came as the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America's largest surviving 1960s rebel army, planned to restart slow-moving peace talks.

A date for the relaunch of negotiations, stalled since mid-July, is scheduled to be announced this week.

Earlier this month the FARC issued a communique warning that government backing for illegal death squads, coupled with an surge in U.S. military aid, could sink the peace process and plunge Colombia into all-out civil war.

The human rights group, Amnesty International, also has widely criticised the Colombian military for covert backing for the paramilitary gangs in their ``dirty war'' against leftists.

The organisation issued a statement on Tuesday urging the United States not to increase its aid to Colombia, which is currently about $280 million this year.

``Congress and the Clinton administration must realise that aid to the Colombian army is aid to the paramilitary groups,'' Amnesty said.

``Until the collaboration between the Colombian army and paramilitary groups is broken, the United States will once again find itself supporting death squads.''

© 1999 Reuters Limited