- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

BOGOTA, Colombia — An explosive new scandal has placed the Colombian military under unusual pressure, as newly elected President Alvaro Uribe prepares to meet President Bush at the White House today.

Before leaving, Mr. Uribe ordered investigations into reputed extrajudicial executions by government troops and the possibility of illegal “paramilitary” and drug-trafficking infiltration of the Colombian army, the Colombian presidential intelligence service, and the Colombian national police.

“Let’s not rush to judgment here. Let’s give the accused their right to due process. I don’t think we have seen all to this story yet,” said retired Colombian Col. Rodrigo Salazar.

Arriving fresh from a landslide re-election victory May 28, with about 62 percent of the vote, becoming the first Colombian civilian president to be re-elected to a consecutive second term in about 100 years, Mr. Uribe is expected to focus on the not-yet ratified free-trade agreement and Colombia’s battle against terrorism, a Marxisit insurgency and drug trafficking.

The Jamundi scandal began May 22, when a unit of one of the army’s high-mountain battalions reputedly opened fire on 10 policemen and a civilian accompanying them. The police were reportedly looking for a cocaine cache and suspected drug traffickers near the town of Jamundi, on the outskirts of Cali, in western Colombia.

All 10 police, who belonged to the judicial investigations unit, were killed. Eight or nine were reportedly shot in the back or in the head. The civilian informant was reportedly shot point-blank in the head, according to forensic reports cited by local news reports.

Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguaran said the incident, which still is under investigation, showed signs of being a deliberate crime and he accused soldiers and officers involved of engaging in a cover-up.

“It wasn’t an error. It was a crime. [The police and civilian] didn’t have an opportunity to defend themselves. There was previous coordination to the attack. And the worst, there was an attempt to make up alibis to confuse the prosecutors and investigators,” Mr. Iguaran is quoted as saying in Colombia’s newsmagazine Semana.

Eight members of the battalion, including the battalion’s commander, Col. Bayron Carvajal, have reportedly been detained, and Col. Carvajal has been sacked from the army.

According to the weekly Semana, judicial sources say that intercepted cell-phone text messages or calls between Col. Carvajal and his men before the killings led prosecutors to suspect that Col. Carvajal was planning an ambush of the anti-narcotics police and that phone intercepts after the incident seem to show attempts by the soldiers to coordinate alibis.

In a few comments that have surfaced in the local Colombian press, Col. Carvajal and his legal counsel have denied this, saying the colonel’s purported messages were misinterpreted and that the killings were the result of confusion and accidental “friendly fire.”

Suspicion in some law-enforcement circles has been directed at Norte del Valle drug kingpin Diego Leon Montoya Sanchez, alias “Don Diego.” Others point to the drug lord’s archrival Wilber Varela, an ex-policeman, as the principal suspect. Mr. Varela is thought to have corrupt policemen, soldiers, and other authorities on his payroll.

This is not the first time Col. Carvajal’s unit has experienced controversy. Last year, troops under Col. Carvajal’s command reportedly killed 15 guerrillas, some or all of whom later were said to be civilian peasants.

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