Investigators from Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (FiscalÃa) are trying to find out what happened to eleven young men who disappeared earlier this year from the poor slums of Soacha, on BogotÃ¡’s outskirts, only to turn up in a grave hundreds of miles away, presented by the Colombian military as having been killed in combat.
Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe seemed much more certain about what happened in a statement he gave on Tuesday. The ardently pro-military president repeated the Army’s assertion that the young men, while abducted illegally, were indeed killed in combat. In this version of events, the young men willingly joined an armed group that fought the army, instead of having been killed in captivity, their bodies later presented as evidence of military effectiveness against illegal armed groups.
The Prosecutor-General of the Nation confirmed that the young men disappeared from Soacha were killed in combat, that they hadn’t gone to harvest coffee, they went there for criminal purposes and they did not die one day after their disappearance, but a month after. … The Prosecutor-General specified that the Army allowed the CTI [the investigations unit of the Prosecutor-General's Office] to exhume the cadavers. For its part, the Coroner’s Office [Medicina Legal] said that the bodies had several projectile wounds, but were not executed by the Army.
Uribe cited as his source the country’s Prosecutor-General (Fiscal General), Mario IguarÃ¡n. Later that day, though, IguarÃ¡n – whose office is a separate branch of government from the presidency, although he served as the Uribe government’s vice-minister of Justice until his 2005 nomination – made a public statement of his own, contradicting some of the President’s assertions.
Was there recruitment? Yes, there was recruitment.
Was there recruitment for criminal purposes? Yes. I said and still say that they didn’t go to harvest coffee.
Who recruited them? We don’t know. We are investigating what the macabre recruitment was.
Were they killed by the Army? Yes, the Army itself admits that the troops killed them.
Who carried out the urgent acts, the inspection of the bodies? The CTI of the Prosecutor-General’s Office.
Were they killed in combat? We don’t know. We are investigating. For the moment the Prosecutor-General’s Office cannot affirm, nor can it suppose, that they were killed in combat.
Who must carry out the investigation? Only the Prosecutor-General’s Human Rights Unit can carry it out.
Can the Coroner’s Office conclude or affirm that they were killed in combat? The Coroner’s Office cannot affirm this. Only the prosecutors and, ultimately, the judges can conclude this.
Though the Colombian Presidency has since rectified its position, yielding to the prosecutor-general, it still raises questions that President Uribe was in such a rush to absolve the military in one of the country’s most shocking recent human-rights cases.