USIS Washington 

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

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.