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Killing of Colombian Columnist Draws Protest from CPJ

New York, N.Y., March 21 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Colombian government to “take immediate action” against those responsible for the brutal murder Thursday of Gerardo Bedoya Borrero, the opinion editor of the Calí daily newspaper El País and a harsh critic of drug trafficking.

According to information provided to CPJ, Bedoya, 55, was getting into his car at 8 p.m. Thursday when he was shot at least six times by a gunman who fled the scene on a motorcycle.

“We believe the authors of this crime were drug traffickers,” his colleagues at El País said in a joint statement released today.

Bedoya had recently defended the controversial U.S. decision to decertify Colombia as a recipient of U.S. economic aid because of its government’s alleged ties to the cocaine cartels.He had also advocated the extradition of Colombian nationals accused of drug crimes to the United States.“Even though they call me pro-Yankee, I prefer the pressure of the U. S. government to the pressure of the narcos,” he wrote in a column three weeks ago.

It was the second killing of a journalist in Colombia this week.On Tuesday, March 18, in Cartagena, a photographer who formerly worked with the Bogotá daily El Espectador, Freddy Elles Ahumada, 38, was found murdered.His body showed signs of torture and he had been stabbed and shot several times, once in the head.CPJ is continuing to investigate his death to determine if it was related to his work as a photojournalist.

“CPJ deplores this evidence of renewed violence against journalists in Colombia and calls upon President Ernesto Samper to take immediate action to apprehend and prosecute the murderers,” said William A. Orme, Jr., the New York-based press freedom group’s executive director.

With yesterday’s murder of Bedoya , at least 42 journalists have been assassinated in Colombia in the past 10 years, according to information corroborated by CPJ.Colombia continues to be the most dangerous country for journalists in the Western Hemisphere.

Bedoya was the most prominent journalist to be murdered in Colombia since the 1986 killing by cartel hitmen of Guillermo Cano, publisher of the Bogotá newspaper El Espectador.Drug cartel violence against the press had seemed to be on the decline in Colombia in recent years.CPJ recorded one killing of a journalist in Colombia because of his work in 1996 and two such killings in 1995.

Bedoya, 55, had worked for El País for five years, after serving two terms in congress and representing his country as an ambassador to the European Community in Brussels.

The murders come at a time of renewed threats against the Colombian press.The leading Bogotá daily El Tiempo yesterday received warnings that one of its offices would be bombed.An editor, Francisco Santos, reported receiving telephone death threats.He had previously been held hostage for several months by the Medellín cartel.

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