Colombia is terrorized by 'successor' paramilitary groups

For some human rights activists, the new face of violence in Colombia comes with a familiar mask.

While a female activist was providing assistance to a woman victim of the paramilitaries at the victim's home in Antioquia, five men wearing balaclavas broke into the house, raped both women and warned the rights defender to stop doing human rights work.

The men who attacked them — the rights worker feared having her name used — were members of what Human Rights Watch calls the "successor groups" to Colombia's long-feared right-wing paramilitary groups, most of which demobilized under a deal with the government of President Alvaro Uribe.

In a new report released here Wednesday, called Paramilitaries Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia, the U.S.-based NGO said the successor groups pose a growing threat to human rights and security in Colombia.

By the most conservative estimates, the new groups have at least 4,000 members who regularly commit massacres, killings, and forcibly displace individuals and entire communities. And as their ranks have swelled, the groups have consolidated into six main organizations and are present in 24 of Colombia's 32 provinces.

The groups are committing "egregious abuses and terrorizing the civilian population in ways all too reminiscent of the AUC," the report said referring to the federation of paramilitary groups called the Self-Defense Forces of Colombia that demobilized more than 30,000 men between 2003 and 2006.

Defense Minister Gabriel Silva blasted the HRW report, saying it "did not recognize at all the commitment of security forces in their fight against these criminal groups."

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