21 May 1998
(Calls for Colombia to investigate rights abuses) (420) By Eric Green USIA Staff Writer WASHINGTON -- The United States commends Colombia's decision to restructure its military, but has repeated its call for the Colombian government to investigate all reported human rights abuses in that country, says State Department spokesman James Rubin. Briefing reporters May 21, Rubin said the United States noted that the decision by Colombia to disband its 20th intelligence brigade "was taken in the context of an overall review of Colombian military structure. We understand this review process is ongoing." Rubin added that the State Department has registered its human rights concerns with the 20th brigade in its annual human rights report, and repeats "our call on the Colombian Government to investigate all reported abuses and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of Colombian law." But he added that Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries -- "the instigator of Colombia's civil conflict -- are responsible for the vast majority of reported human rights abuses" in that country. The United States, he said, "strongly condemns the guerrillas' continued practice of kidnapping innocent civilians and demanding ransom." Rubin said there are currently five U.S. citizens being held by Colombian guerrillas. He said that through third party intermediaries, the guerrillas have made assertions that they are not involved in drug trafficking, or that they are prepared to disengage from trafficking. "We have not seen any evidence of this to date," Rubin said. "However, this is an issue for the guerrillas to discuss with the Colombian Government." The United States, Rubin added, "stands ready to do whatever it can to encourage and support peace talks" in Colombia. "However, peace is ultimately a matter for Colombians to negotiate. We urge the guerrillas to engage with the Colombian Government in a meaningful peace process. This will be a primary objective of the new Colombian Government, which will take office in August." Rubin rejected the premise of a reporter's question that U.S. support to secure Colombian peace would involve the U.S. military. "What we're talking about," he said, "is trying to facilitate a peace process. I fail to see how one could even imagine I was talking about the military." Colombian Armed forces chief General Manuel Jose Bonett announced May 19 that the 20th Intelligence Brigade was being disbanded in the interest of helping to improve his country's relations with the international community.