Colombia needs to purge bad soldiers from army

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

The report last week by Amnesty International is a disturbing account of a failure of Colombia's government to protect its citizens and control renegade elements within the military. President Alvaro Uribe's quick dismissal of 27 army officers - including three generals and 11 colonels - was a reassuring signal of the government's determination to pursue abusers and rid the military of rogue elements. The Bush administration should monitor the situation closely, but it would be premature and counterproductive to agree to Amnesty's demand that the United States suspend military aid to Colombia.

The human-rights group for months has issued warnings about civilians' murders and disappearances - mostly from rural areas - who were uninvolved in Colombia's long-running guerrilla war. But Amnesty's 94-page report and the military's internal investigation showed that some parts of the military have been actively involved in gross human-rights abuses, including killing civilians, putting weapons near their bodies or changing clothing to make them look like guerrillas.

However, it was the disappearance of 11 civilians from a Bototá suburb several months ago that set off a public outcry and led to the military investigation. The victims' bodies were found halfway across the country. The Amnesty report, based on two years of field research, claimed that a majority of the estimated 70,000 people killed in the past 20 years were civilians, and that more than 20,000 people have been kidnapped or taken hostage in that period.

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