Colombia. Former army officials admit their role in the killing of civilians | Military news

Former army officials told the special court they were involved in so-called “false positive” killings of more than 100 civilians.

Ten former members of the Colombian army have publicly admitted their role in the killings in 2007 and 2008 of more than 100 civilians, falsely presented as members of armed groups killed in combat with the army.

The confessions were made on Tuesday during a historic public hearing at the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) court in the Norte de Santander department, near Colombia’s border with Venezuela, where the killings took place.

The tribunal was established under a 2016 peace accord between the Colombian government and the now demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels.

It is intended to try former combatants, handing out alternative sentences in exchange for full disclosure of incidents that took place during decades of internal armed conflict in Colombia.

On Tuesday, a former military general, four colonels, five other army officials and a civilian said they participated in the abduction of 120 youths from the town of Ocana and nearby communities to kill them and later present them as members of the leftist guerrillas and other armed groups operating in the area.

“I recognize and accept my responsibility as a co-perpetrator of these war crimes,” said Nestor Gutierrez, who was the corporal of the 15th Mobile Brigade when the killings took place.

“We killed innocent people, peasants. I want to stress this: those we killed were simple peasants,” he said, adding that pressure from the upper echelons and “demands for results” played a part in what happened.

The so-called ‘false positives’ scandal has rocked Colombia, as relatives of victims have for decades demanded justice and accountability – and insisted their loved ones were not involved in armed groups.

The JEP said last year that the Colombian military carried out more than 6,400 such extrajudicial executions between 2002 and 2008, when President Alvaro Uribe was in power. But rights groups and relatives said the true number could be much higher.

Dozens of people – including around 50 relatives of the victims – attended Tuesday’s JEP hearing in Ocana, the last opportunity for them to try for closure.

“I ask you to erase our surnames… they were rural workers, not subversives, guerrillas and thugs as they were branded,” said Eduvina Becerra, the partner of murdered farmer Jose Ortega.

Judge Catalina Diaz called it a ‘truth and accountability’ hearing, saying former military officials had to ‘explain themselves clearly, answer questions and, above all, take direct responsibility to the victims and the country’ .

“After years of silence and fear, the time for truth has finally come, to end decades of impunity,” the JEP said in a video shared ahead of statements by former military officials.

The court has the power to offer alternatives to jail for people who confess their crimes and make reparations.

Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from the capital Bogota, said “really powerful” testimonies had been delivered, offering relatives of the victims “the chance to get some truth about what happened”.

“The situation in [the region] is just one of many cases the court has investigated. They were able to determine that more than 6,400 people were killed in this way by the army,” Rampietti said.

“Now the Colombian army has insisted that there is no systematic plan to kill innocent people,” he said, but many former army officials who spoke in court said they were under pressure from the government at the time “to show results”. ”.

Tuesday’s hearing comes just weeks after the Colombian army was accused of killing at least four civilians during an operation in late March in an indigenous community that the army said targeted FARC dissidents.

Several survivors recently told Al Jazeera that the victims included Brayan Santiago Pama, 16, and local indigenous leader Pablo Panduro Coquinche. The UN human rights body has urged Colombia to prosecute those responsible.

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