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Now there is talk of abuses at the hands of Ecuadorean soldiers.

The U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, has issued a report citing abuses by Ecuadorean soldiers and saying the military is ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of the border region.

“And as [the military’s] relations with citizens have soured, [its] reliance on abusive tactics to obtain information has increased,” Mr. Alston reports.

There is a heavy price for those who resist, including Miguel Lapo and Miguel Pinzon.

Mr. Lapo was president of Barrancabermeja, a Ecuadorean refugee village with shacks lining the sides of a dirt soccer field. Mr. Pinzon was president of San Martin, a similar village nearby.

Both were Ecuadorean. Both helped Colombian refugees make a new life. Both spoke out if they witnessed something illegal.

Both were assassinated last September, one day apart, by unknown assailants.

Many here say they were killed as a warning to those willing to stand up to criminal elements.

“There are lots of theories of why he was murdered,” said Juan, a burly Colombian. “Nobody will ever know.”

Complicating matters is a culture of violence that is exemplified by “sicariato” — an assassination that costs only $20.

“The number of murders carried out by hired killers, criminal gangs and others is rising steadily, but at the same time fewer and fewer are being caught,” said Mr. Alston, who reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

His report, issued in July, talks of a shocking level of impunity: For every 100 killings, only one perpetrator is convicted. Many times, the police don’t bother to investigate once they’ve determined that a killing resulted from “sicariato,” which they define as intergang violence.

“This category seems largely designed to provide a justification for the police not to bother too much with investigating a large proportion of the killings that take place, while reassuring the public that those involved were essentially just crooks,” the report states.

The map of criminal players isn’t the only thing that has shifted. Analysts note that the FARC — which began as a communist land movement by peasants and which to varying degrees has controlled much of this border over the years — has changed, too.

“There has been an evolution, and the ideological component has diminished,” said Michael Shifter, a policy analyst for the Washington-based InterAmerican Dialogue. “Now they’ve increasingly resorted to criminal tactics like extortion and kidnapping, and there’s an emphasis on the drug trade rather than the ideological component that characterized the group from the beginning.”