The worst is over, but Colombia's war goes on

More than 10,000 rebels continue to fight and some paramilitary groups have rearmed.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

It's been nearly 20 years since the worst of the violence in Trujillo, but bodies of today's crimes still float down the nearby Cauca River from time to time.

Lucila Valencia sent one of her sons there to search for his brother, Carlos Arturo, who just last month was seen being dragged from his home in the middle of the night by gunmen, before disappearing. The remaining son searched the river and streams until he was warned to back off. "If he didn't, he'd end up in the river himself," Ms. Valencia says.

The demobilization of more than 30,000 paramilitary fighters between 2003 and 2005 marked a turning point in Colombia's conflict, but it by no means put an end to it. More than 10,000 rebels continue to fight and some paramilitaries have rearmed.

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In the first eight months of 2008, according to the government's Human Rights Observatory, there were 19 massacres in which 87 people died and 315 people have been kidnapped. In the same time frame, the rights group Codhes says that 54 people have been killed in extrajudicial executions by government forces, and more than 270,000 new internal refugees have been forced to flee their homes.

It's a far cry from the height of the conflict when 1,863 Colombians died in 400 massacres in 1999, and 2,787 people were kidnapped. In 2002, the worst year for displacements, 412,553 people were forced from their land.

But while leftist rebels have been pushed from major urban centers, they still control large areas of the country. And despite the demobilization of the paramilitaries, efforts to dismantle their economic and political power have been thwarted by the administration of President Álvaro Uribe, according to a Human Rights Watch report released this week.

Confessions by the paramilitaries about the "mafialike networks" they created with prominent politicians, military commanders, and business leaders, have led to investigations of 60 members of Congress and dozens of military officers. But several former paramilitaries have backtracked on information they provided about links.

And since most of the top paramilitary chiefs were extradited this year to the United States on drug charges, their full stories may never be known.

"What is at stake in Colombia goes beyond the problem … of how to find the truth and secure justice for past atrocities," the Human Rights Watch report says. "At stake is the country's future: whether its institutions will be able to break free of the control of those who have relied on organized crime and often horrific human rights abuses to secure power."

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