Report: Colombian army head collaborated with 'terrorist' paramilitaries
The Central Intelligence Agency has evidence alleging that Colombia's top military leader "collaborated extensively" with right-wing paramilitary groups that the United States considers terrorist organizations, according to the Los Angeles Times. Colombia's government, however, denies the accusations.Skip to next paragraph
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The Times writes that according to CIA documents the newspaper reviewed, Gen. Mario Montoya, the head of the US-backed Colombian army, coordinated with paramilitary groups during a 2002 military sweep, dubbed Operation Orion, against Marxist guerrillas near Medellin. At least 14 people were killed during the operation, and critics of President Álvaro Uribe's government claim that even more people "disappeared" afterward.
Operation Orion sent 3,000 Colombian army soldiers and police, supported by heavily armed helicopter gunships, though a vast shantytown area controlled by Colombia's largest left-wing rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
The operation has been widely considered a success and has been a key to Uribe's popularity. But there have long been allegations that after the army swept through, the paramilitaries filled the power vacuum, asserting their control with killings, disappearances and other crimes.
The Times writes that the CIA report implicates General Montoya, who commanded Operation Orion, as well as the overall head of Colombia's armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla de Leon. The informant who provided the information to the CIA is cited in the report as saying that the army, local police, and paramilitary groups had signed documents which spelled out their plans for Medellin.
Should the allegation hold up, Montoya would be the highest rankingColombian officer linked to the growing "para-political" scandal in Colombia. Several members of Mr. Uribe's government, including the former foreign minister and various legislators, have been tied to outlawed right-wing paramilitaries. The source who provided the CIA report to the Los Angeles Times — an unidentified US government employee — said that "he was disclosing the information because he was unhappy that Uribe's government had not been held more to account by the Bush administration."
The CIA did not confirm or deny the authenticity of the report, though the agency did request that the Times omit information that "could jeopardize intelligence sources and methods." The CIA also requested that the Times's findings not be released, as some of the sources are considered "unproven." The Times notes, however, that the CIA report itself underscores that the source of the Operation Orion information is confirmed by "a proven source."
Reuters reports that Colombia denied the CIA document's assertions about Montoya.
"Colombia's government rejects accusations made by foreign intelligence agencies against army commander General Mario Montoya, that have been filtered through the press, without evidence being presented to Colombian justice and the government," it said.
Montoya's alleged compact with right-wing paramilitaries is not the first to roil Colombia. Last week, the Colombia's chief federal prosecutor, Mario Iguaran, ordered 20 politicians to explain their involvement in the "Pact of Ralito,"The Associated Press reports.