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21 January 2005

Over 900 Paramilitaries in Colombia Demobilized

Rice says demobilization of forces must not impart impunity

By Scott Miller
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The Organization of American States (OAS) applauds the January 18 demobilization of 925 fighters from the Sinu-San Jorge faction of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), according to acting Secretary-General Luigi R. Einaudi.

Since February 2004, the OAS has been supporting the demobilization process through its Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia. In a January 19 OAS press release, Einaudi said that effectively bringing Colombia's civil war to an end is a shared responsibility of the international community and the Colombian government.

He expressed hope that the Colombian government will strengthen the existing legal framework to sustain the large-scale demobilization necessary, and cautioned that not everything can be expected to be resolved overnight.  "Peace processes are usually extremely complex and produce real changes in the course of history; it's not easy to restore democratic trust and the full enjoyment of peace after almost fifty years of armed conflict, as in the case of Colombia," he said.

In her January 18 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice praised the leadership of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, particularly his efforts to mobilize Colombia to tackle the nation's narco-terrorism scourge "in a new and renewed fashion."  She said that the dismantling of Colombia's illegal armed groups, including the AUC, "is an important part of this revitalization of Colombia and dealing with its past problems."

The United States "would like to be in a position to do whatever we need to do to help" the demobilization process in Colombia, Rice said.  However, because the State Department has designated these illegal armed groups as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, "obviously, there are some things that we can't do," she told legislators.

More than 4,500 paramilitary personnel have been demobilized since 2003, and Colombian authorities hope to disarm the remaining 15,000 by the end of 2005.  As the Uribe administration moves this process forward, Rice emphasized that the Uribe administration must not offer paramilitaries impunity for past crimes.

"The one thing that we've made clear is that while the AUC needs to be demobilized [and] demilitarized, and while [Uribe has] talked about reconciliation with certain aspects, it should not be granted to those “with blood on their hands," she said.

Apart from this admonition to the Colombian government, Rice said that Colombia is becoming a success story, thanks to the nation's determined leadership -- and also, in part, as a result of collaboration with the United States.

"I think we've been a good partner for President Uribe," she said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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