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Cablegate: Colombian Army Attack On Police Unit Sparks

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

id: 15607
date: 4/1/2004 22:59
refid: 04BOGOTA3393
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: SECRET//NOFORN
destination:
header:
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


----------------- header ends ----------------

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 BOGOTA 003393

SIPDIS

NOFORN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/29/2014
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PTER PINR PINS PROP SNAR MOPS ASEC CO
SUBJECT: COLOMBIAN ARMY ATTACK ON POLICE UNIT SPARKS
CONTROVERSY

CLASSIFIED BY: Ambassador William B. Wood for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d)

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) The deaths on March 19 of eleven people -- seven anti-
kidnapping police and four civilians -- at the hands of the
Colombian Army (COLAR) in Narino department has sparked
controversy. The Colombian National Police (CNP) and Army have
presented contradictory accounts of the
incident, and President Uribe has asked the Ministry of Defense
(MOD) to present him with a consensus account by April 2. Over
the past week, the press has focused on inconsistencies in the
COLAR and CNP accounts of the incident, as well as on
disagreements between the two security services. To provide
closure, at the very least the MOD's report would have to
clarify whether: 1) the CNP were clearly identifiable as police;
2) they were authorized to operate in the area; 3) the COLAR was
operating on credible intelligence and acted responsibly; and 4)
the COLAR appropriately handled the investigation immediately
following the incident and did not attempt a cover-up. Such a
short-fuse report may not adequately address these and other
questions, but the answers must eventually be found if the COLAR
and CNP are to work together effectively. End Summary.

--------------
The "Incident"
--------------

2. (U) On the night of March 19, in what is being variously
described as an ambush, an execution, or a friendly fire
accident, the Colombian Army (COLAR) killed eleven people in a
police convoy in the municipality of Guaitarilla, Narino
department. The victims, who included four civilians and seven
members of a Colombian National Police's (CNP) Anti-Kidnapping
Group (GAULAs), were traveling along a rural highway in an area
with a heavy presence of illegal armed groups when they were
fired on by about forty COLAR forces from the Third Division's
Boyaca
Battalion. All eleven passengers were killed; COLAR forces
suffered no casualties.

3. (C/NF) The incident has sparked controversy and confusion
both publicly and within the Ministry of Defense (MOD).
Initially, the COLAR and the CNP publicly offered markedly
different accounts of the incident, and the President (who was
in Washington, DC at the time) prohibited both institutions from
commenting further in public. Compounding difficulties the GOC
faces in investigating an incident that occurred in largely
hostile territory, no local eyewitnesses to the event have been
identified. Although the Prosecutor General's Office
("Fiscalia") is conducting an investigation, President Uribe has
demanded that the MOD submit its own internal report on the
incident by April 2, in which the COLAR and CNP reach consensus
on what occurred. Uribe clearly hopes the report will put an
end to public speculation.

--------------------
Conflicting Accounts
--------------------

4. (C/NF) The COLAR claims its actions were based on
intelligence about ongoing narcotics trafficking activities in
the area. According to the COLAR, its forces attacked vehicles
carrying individuals in camouflage uniforms armed with
revolvers. Armed Forces Commander General Carlos
Alberto Ospina and Army Commander General Martin Orlando Carreno
have commented that the GAULA members' presence late at night on
a rural road is suspicious, and Carreno has taken no
administrative action against the COLAR members involved in the
incident, pending an investigation.

5. (S/NF) The CNP, on the other hand, claims its troops were
involved in an approved anti-extortion operation, and were
accompanied by at least one civilian informant and two or more
civilian detainees. According to the CNP, its troops were on
their way to Pasto, capital of Narino department, to process the
detainees when they were attacked. Money the COLAR found in the
vehicles was being used by the informants as part of a sting
operation. Contrary to COLAR reporting, the CNP says its
members were wearing standard issue police uniforms and carrying
rifles. The CNP also alleges that the COLAR cordoned off the
area after the incident and, rather than immediately informing
the CNP about the tragedy, publicly announced a successful
operation against paramilitaries and only told the CNP about its
officers' deaths the following day. Upon learning of the
incident, the CNP Deputy Director asked that the COLAR wait for
the Prosecutor General's Office to
arrive before tampering with the scene. According to CNP
sources, the COLAR ignored this request and instead flew the
bodies back to Pasto in helicopters, where they were delivered
to the victims' families. The source goes on to say that all of
the victims' clothing and jewelry were missing, except for one
GAULA hat left in a vehicle.

---------------
Inconsistencies
---------------

6. (C/NF) In trying to piece together the incident, GOC
investigators and the press have uncovered many inconsistent,
suspicious, and/or confusing details.

-- (U) The Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalia) says the
bodies appear to have been tampered with. In addition, ten
bodies were found on the ground outside their vehicles and shot
at point-blank range, suggesting they were not killed in an
ambush, as the COLAR claims.

-- (U) The CNP claims the GAULAs had authorization from CNP
leadership in Bogota to travel through the area. However, the
military was apparently not notified. Some observers find it
suspicious that such a small number of police would be traveling
on official business on a rural road in the middle of the night
in an area with a large presence of illegal armed groups. At
the very least, it is clear that the CNP and COLAR did not
adequately coordinate operations.

-- (U) The GAULAs were not accompanied by a prosecutor and were
operating outside a metropolitan area, both of which violate
regulations for local GAULA units. The CNP has explained away
this concern by asserting that four of the officers were
assigned to the national unit.

-- (C/NF) Two alleged police survivors of the incident have
come forward, contradicting the first military justice official
to arrive on the scene, who claimed there were no survivors.
According to the first of these, the GAULAs were in the area
conducting an anti-drug trafficking operation. If this were the
case, it would explain COLAR
reports that drugs were found in the vehicles, but
simultaneously raises questions about why the GAULAs -- an anti-
kidnapping and anti-extortion unit -- were conducting an anti-
narcotics operation. However, serious questions have been
raised about this individual's credibility, and
some reports now claim he is actually a police informant who
came forward two days after the incident with a bullet wound
that doctors determined was received just hours earlier.

-- (U) According to press reports, a second alleged survivor,
who is reportedly entering the Prosecutor General's witness
protection program, claims the 11 persons were murdered after
exiting their vehicles and conversing with COLAR forces. This
witness claims he exited one of the vehicles and hid in the
underbrush when he noticed a suspicious roadblock ahead. From
there, he made two cell phone calls to his brother, one of the
civilian informants in the groups, who said the GAULAs were
arguing with the soldiers about turning over their weapons.
Shortly thereafter, he heard shots and could no longer
communicate
with his brother. The credibility of this witness has yet to be
determined.

-------
Comment
-------

7. (C) It is important that the GOC resolve this incident as
soon as possible in order to minimize the damage already caused
to traditionally strained relations between the CNP and the
COLAR. The MOD's report to the President may adequately explain
what happened on the night of March 19. However, given the
short timeframe for delivery of the report and the complicated
nature of the incident, this is unlikely.

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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