. (tinypianos) wrote in ontd_political,

Colombia soldiers charged in civilians' killings

Colombian authorities have arrested a retired lieutenant colonel and seven other soldiers in the killings of two civilians who they allegedly presented as guerrillas slain in combat to inflate rebel body counts.

Prosecutors say five active soldiers and three retired officers were detained, including former Lt. Col. Wilson Castro and two others of lower rank.

Prosecutors said in a statement Friday that the soldiers were charged with crimes including homicide and forced disappearance.

They appeared in court Thursday in the state of Santander to testify about the deaths of the two men - Daniel Pesca and Eduardo Garzon - who were last seen in March 2008 in Bogota. Authorities say their bodies appeared days later in rural Santander and were reported by the army as rebels slain in combat.

The former officers were part of a purge of more than two dozen soldiers last year - including various high-ranking officers - amid a scandal over scores of extrajudicial killings of civilians.

The commander of the army, Gen. Mario Montoya, also resigned in November when the scandal erupted over the killings of civilians, allegedly spurred by officers seeking to inflate rebel body counts. His resignation followed criticism of an army policy he allegedly encouraged of promoting officers whose units killed the most rebels.

The eight soldiers and former officers are also under investigation in other deaths reported as slain rebels. The scandal erupted after relatives of the victims spoke out about their disappearance.

Colombian prosecutors are investigating the killings of more than 1,600 people in the past five years who are suspected of being the victims of extrajudicial killings by security forces.

Tags: colombia, latin america
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