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Colombian leader fires 25 soldiers for killing civilians

Published 30/10/2008

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's government has fired 25 soldiers, including three generals and four colonels, over the killing of at least 11 civilians who disappeared from a Bogota suburb and were found dead hundreds of miles away.

Uribe said an internal military probe determined that the cashiered soldiers were guilty at least of negligence that included permitting “the collusion of members of the army with criminals” in “the murder of innocents”.

Yesterday’s purge was the biggest armed forces shakeup in years over human rights abuses, and comes as rights groups complain of a rise in the killing of noncombatants to boost body counts of leftist rebels.

Armed forces chief Gen Freddy Padilla read out the names of the soldiers at a news conference, with Uribe and Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos by his side.

They said the cases would be handed over to the chief prosecutor's office.

Neither Uribe nor the other officials explained how the 25 soldiers cashiered on Wednesday — who included 19 officers — might have been involved in the deaths of the 11 men who disappeared from the Bogota suburb of Soacha early this year, and whose bodies were found in August and September in common graves in an area near the Venezuela border.

One of the generals fired on Wednesday, 30th Brigade commander Paulino Coronado, told The Associated Press after nine of the bodies were found that the men had been killed in combat with rebels of the leftist National Liberation Army.

The other two cashiered generals were Jose Joaquin Cortes, commander of the 2nd Division and Roberto Hernandez, commander of the 7th Division.

The action came a day after Amnesty International urged the United States and other nations to halt military aid to Colombia until security forces reduce killings of civilians and the country heeds UN recommendations for ending its civil conflict.

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