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Washington, DC, September 24, 2009 - The United States harbored serious concerns about the potential involvement of Colombian security forces in the February 2000 massacre at El Salado, an attack that occurred while the two countries were hammering out the final details of the massive military aid package known as Plan Colombia, according to declassified documents posted today on the National Security Archive Web site.
Orchestrated and carried out by paramilitaries from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an illegal paramilitary army, there have long been allegations that Colombian security forces, including those from the Colombian Navy's 1st Marine Infantry Brigade, facilitated the massacre by vacating the town before the carnage began and constructing roadblocks to delay the arrival of humanitarian aid. U.S. assistance under Plan Colombia required the Colombian military to demonstrate progress in breaking ties with paramilitary forces.
The documents described in the article below--and in Spanish on the Web site of Semana (Colombia's leading news magazine)--show that U.S. officials had significant doubts about the credibility of their Colombian military counterparts and were well aware, even before El Salado, of the propensity of the Colombian military to act in concert with illegal paramilitary forces, whether through omission or commission.
These findings also complement those of Memoria Histórica, an independent group charged by Colombia's National Commission on Reparations and Reconciliation with investigating the history of the country's armed conflict. Its report on El Salado, La Masacre de El Salado: Esa Guerra No Era Nuestra (The El Salado Massacre: That Was Not Our War), was released this week before audiences in El Salado and Bogotá.
Highlights from the documents include:
* The U.S. Embassy's record of a January 1999 meeting in which Colombia's deputy army commander said that the Army "had no business pursuing paramilitaries" as they were "apolitical common criminals" that "did not threaten constitutional order through subversive activities."
* Another 1999 report from U.S. military sources found that the Colombian armed forces had "not actively persecuted paramilitary group members because they see them as allies in the fight against the guerrillas, their common enemy."
* A U.S. military source who opined that evidence indicating some of the paramilitary members were wearing Colombian Army uniforms suggested "that many of the paramilitaries are ex-military members, or that they obtain the uniforms from military or ex-military members."
* State Department talking points that pointed to the capture of a mere 11 of the 450 perpetrators of the massacre as evidence that the military had actively pursued the perpetrators and was improving its record against paramilitaries.
* A U.S. Embassy cable based on a conversation with a source apparently close to the investigation who strongly suggested that the Colombian military knew about the massacre ahead of time, cleared out of the town before the killing began and "had been lucky in capturing the eleven paramilitary members."
* A document casting doubt on the military's explanation of its role in El Salado, including the U.S. Embassy's view that it was "difficult to believe that the town of El Salado had not been subject to threats of an attack prior to the massacre, considering the town is situated in a high conflict area."
* A U.S. Embassy report on Admiral Rodrigo Quiñones, one of the military members alleged to have facilitated the massacre, noting that "an unmistakable pattern of similar allegations has followed him almost everywhere he has held field command."
Visit the National Security Archive Web site for more information: