Journalists threatened by paramilitaries

Bogotá, August 14, 2002—Paramilitary fighters are threatening to kill members of the Colombian press in a northeastern region of Colombia where a journalist was recently shot and killed.

A July 29 e-mail message sent to Radio Meridiano-70 and to Caracol Televisión correspondent Rodrigo Ávila accuses press members and media owners in the Arauca Department of flouting justice and warns that they could be declared military targets. The Arauca Liberators Block of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) signed the letter.

Paramilitary leaders announced before the July 29 threat that the AUC was disbanding because they no longer had control over their fighters. The AUC are now fighting under the banner Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá.

On June 28, presumed paramilitary fighters in Arauca shot and killed Radio Meridiano-70 owner Efraín Varela, who, days before his death, had alerted listeners to the presence of paramilitary fighters in the departmental capital.

Ávila, Caracol’s correspondent in Arauca, said he has received at least 10 threats by telephone during the last week and has hired a bodyguard with financial help from a private human rights group in Colombia. He said repeated requests for protection from the previous government and the new government of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who took office August 7, have gone unanswered.

Evelyn Varela, manager of Meridiano-70 and Efraín Varela’s daughter, said she reported the e-mail message to local authorities, who have not responded.

The paramilitaries are fighting illegally alongside government troops against two leftist guerrilla groups in a civil conflict that began 38 years ago.