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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BOGOTA 006208 SUBJECT: MASS GRAVE EXHUMATION UNCOVERS GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS REF: 04 BOGOTA 10484 Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood; reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) ------Summary ------¶1. On June 22, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner hosted an international delegation visit to Sucre Department. The group visited mass gravesites in San Onofre, met with victims' families and NGOs in Sincelejo, and spoke with local government and military officials about human rights concerns. The interagency investigative team uncovering graves estimated that up to 200 bodies might be found in the exhumations. San Onofre's Mayor claimed the worst was over, and criticized the GOC for attempting to keep the history of massacres and terror alive. Several locals and NGOs reported that officials failed to respond to complaints or protect vulnerable populations. The Catholic Church Bishop for Sucre

agreed, saying the area remained dangerous and that criticizing the drug trade could get one killed in Sucre. Sincelejo's Acting Naval Commander Salcedo painted a more positive outlook but admitted they still did not enjoy the confidence of the population. End summary. ---------Background ---------¶2. (SBU) The "Montes de Maria" region on the Caribbean coast, which crosses Sucre and Bolivar departments, has traditionally been a rural, cattle-farming area. Beginning in the late 1970s, the mountains became a refuge and then an operating base for several guerrilla groups including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN), and the Popular Liberation Army (ELP). In the late 1990s, the United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) established a presence in the areas around the mountains. Local Navy officials estimate that almost 1,000 active terrorists live in the northern third of Sucre alone. Northern Sucre has three major ports that offer illegal armed groups access points to transport supplies and drugs. ---------------------------------Paramilitary Mass Graves Uncovered ---------------------------------¶3. (SBU) On June 22, the Office of the United

Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights led an international delegation composed of one representative from the British, Austrian, and U.S. embassies to Sucre Department to discuss human rights concerns. Since early March, San Onofre municipality, in northern Sucre made news with the findings of mass graves and evidence of gross human rights violations perpetrated by the "Heroes of Montes de Maria," a local paramilitary bloc under the command of Eduardo Cortes Trellez ("Diego Vecino") and his deputy, Rodrigo Antonio Mercado Pelufo ("Rodrigo Cadena"). Both leaders are currently in Rialto, Cordoba Department participating in the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) peace negotiations with the Colombian government. ¶4. (C) Exhumation team leader Maria Rocio Cortes, from the Cartagena Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalia), briefed the group on the history of the GOC investigation. She noted that, although locals claim they had known of paramilitary torture and murder for years, the government first received the information in a police statement in late February. A fifteen-person interagency team made up of the Prosecutor General's office, the Technical Investigation Corps (CTI), forensic experts and a human rights representative entered the area under Colombian military protection and began to uncover graves on March 7. The AUC allegedly buried most of the bodies on El Palmar Ranch, seven kilometers away from Sucre's town hall. The Fiscalia submitted the first criminal cases charging torture and murder on June 7 and is preparing more as the team locates and identifies remains. Cortes said the AUC had taken El Palmar Ranch from the

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 1995 and had kept it to limit access to the gravesites and avoid a criminal investigation. As of June 22, the team had located 68 remains, 54 on El Palmar. Cortes commented that she believed the area might have as many as 200 bodies buried on former AUC-controlled ranches. Although most of the remains were buried four or five years ago, some were killed as recently as six to eight months ago. ¶5. (C) CTI Representative Wilmar Baretto told the delegation that the team had security concerns and had difficulty locating some of the bodies. He noted that the AUC's practices of hiding graves in the brush and dispersing them across a 200 square meter ranch had made the discovery process difficult. He admitted that it would become increasingly challenging to find bodies when the team ran out of eyewitnesses and reports on possible grave locations. While the delegation viewed the evidence around the ranch, Baretto pointed out the stack of personal effects found with the bodies, and the sacks of processed cocaine stashed in holes near the graves. In a separate, private meeting, Cortes and Baretto told UN representatives they had also uncovered tapes with conversations linking San Onofre's Mayor and Sucre's Governor to Cadena's band. The tapes reportedly included discussions of the politicians paying the AUC for protection and offering to ignore the AUC's drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

------------------------------Mayor Outraged by GOC Criticism ------------------------------¶6. (C) San Onofre Mayor Jorge Blanco denounced the GOC for allegedly punishing municipality residents for paramilitary crimes. He told the delegation he sympathized with the victims but wanted San Onofre to move past its dark era. He denounced the mayor's office from 1997-1999 (the peak of the murders according to Blanco) for failing to stop the murders. Blanco did not explain why he had not heard about the murders during his own fifteen-year tenure with the mayor's office before becoming mayor, or why he did not know any of the basic details of the interagency exhumation. He stressed that Senator Gustavo Petro had made things worse by publicizing his findings nationally in the weekly periodical "El Espectador" before revealing the information locally. "It makes me sick that Petro is blaming San Onofre citizens for this and alleging that we all have ties to guerrilla groups or to the paramilitaries," he said. He added that crime levels in the area had improved significantly during his tenure and remarked that he believed the worst was over. ---------------------------------------NGOs and Church Pessimistic about Future ---------------------------------------¶7. (C) Victims and NGO representatives met the delegation an hour away in Sucre's capital, Sincelejo, claiming that meeting in San Onofre

would put them in danger. In contrast to the Mayor's remarks that the town was "moving forward," both victims and NGOs asserted that the public was vulnerable to attacks by illegal armed groups. In separate meetings, both reported that the military stationed in the area failed to take citizens seriously when they reported crimes. According to the NGOs and violence victims, only Colonel Colon, the head of the first Mobile Brigade (BRIM 1), responded to citizen concerns and attempted to protect locals. Nevertheless, several citizens remarked that the mass roundups and arrests of 2004 had only reinforced existing mistrust of the Colombian military's intentions. ¶8. (C) Six NGOs, including the Deacon of Peace; the Franciscan Saint Somas Moro Foundation; the Life, Justice, and Equity Corporation; and the Community and Communal Women's Network presented a list of the most critical problems facing northern Sucre populations. For example they stressed that many municipalities' residents were confined to town limits and prevented from leaving. Displacement was also a serious issue for municipalities -- they estimated that an average of ten Sucre residents were newly displaced every day. NGO representatives claimed that some demobilized paramilitaries from La Mojana Bloc (demobilized in February 2005) remained active in the area and terrorized the population. ¶9. (C) Bishop Nel Beltran, in charge of all Catholic Church congregations in Sucre, hosted the meetings with victims and NGOs in his residence. He told the delegation that the illegal armed

groups had shifted from conducting massacres to carrying out individual assassinations targeted against the military or a rival terrorist group. In particular, he mentioned the story of two young local women who were murdered while eight months pregnant because the babies' fathers were Colombian soldiers. Beltran also opined that the illegal groups avoided direct clashes with rival groups but rather focused their aggression on the local population. In a private meeting, he told the group that AUC Commander Salvatore Mancuso had saved his life by advising him against criticizing narcotrafficking in the region. Beltran said the Catholic Church was allowed to criticize illegal armed groups in general, but raising the drug trade in Sucre could prove fatal. ----------------------------Local Military Maintain Order ----------------------------¶10. (C) Colonel Salcedo of BRIM 1 briefed the group on military strategy and the actions his unit takes to protect the population. He said the mountains between San Onofre and San Isidro municipalities were home to almost 430 guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN) "Nelson Bloc", the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and the FARC's 36 and 37th Fronts. In addition, Salcedo estimated that roughly 500 active AUC fighters under Diego Vecino control the plains surrounding those mountains. Despite the high concentration of terrorists, Salcedo said landmines were the greatest threat to the Navy presence. At the end of the brief, a UN employee asked Salcedo why the

Navy had not discovered the AUC murders in San Onofre sooner. Salcedo replied that locals did not trust the Navy but said the situation was improving thanks to social outreach programs. He commented that he thought it would be difficult to maintain order once the AUC demobilized in the area. "We will have to protect everyone then," he concluded. WOOD (Edited and reading.) reformatted by Andres for ease of

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