Threats against journalists in the eastern border city of Cúcuta have increased since the 11 January murder of Julio Palacios Sánchez, and two have had to leave.
Reporter Antonio Colmenares, who writes about armed groups for the local newspaper La Opinión, told his editors in an e-mail message on 21 January that he had to flee the city four days before. He did not elaborate.
Jorge Corredor, who presents a news programme, "El Pregón del Norte," on La Voz del Norte radio, fled across the nearby border into Venezuela on 12 January after receiving a telephone death threat. The next day he said he was thinking of seeking refuge in Europe.
The daily El Tiempo reported on 24 January that local police chief José Humberto Henao had announced that he was on the point of arresting Palacios’ murderers, but he gave no further information about the investigation.
13.01.2005 - Call for proper investigation into murder of radio journalist in Cúcuta
Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the murder of journalist Julio Palacios Sánchez of Radio Lemas yesterday in the eastern border town of Cúcuta and urged the authorities to stage a proper investigation.
"With local journalists saying he was probably killed because of his work, we call on the authorities to do everything possible to ensure that those responsible are identified and punished," the press freedom organisation said.
The authorities should also contact his family and colleagues to discuss the possibility of providing them with some form of protection, if they so desire, the organisation added.
Reporters Without Borders had already voiced concern in June 2004 about the decline in press freedom in Cúcuta due to an increase in threats and physical attacks against journalists.
With a total of one journalist and one media assistant killed in the country, 2004 was less deadly for the press in Colombia than previous years, the organisation noted. But the decline in fatalities does not mean anything has changed in this country, which is one of the most dangerous in Latin America for the news media.
"The situation continues to be very difficult because those opposed to press freedom - corrupt politicians, drug traffickers, armed groups - maintain more and more complex relations which makes it even more dangerous to report their misdeeds," Reporters Without Borders said.
Palacios, who presented a news programme called "El Viento" on Radio Lemas, was shot three times in the chest by two men on a motorcycle as he was going to the radio station. The police said the killers had an accident just a few yards from the murders scene as they were getting away, and one of them could be injured.
Despite his own injuries, Palacios managed to drive himself home. Relatives immediately rushed him to the San José hospital in Cúcuta where he died.
Aged 55, Palacios also co-hosted a Radio Lemas programme called "The Friday Big Polemic" with two other journalists. He had already survived a murder attempt in 1996 and a bomb in 1998. In October, he received several anonymous calls from Venezuela threatening to kill him if he did not stop talking. Three other Cúcuta journalists received similar threats.
Palacios had a very critical style and was well-known for exposing corruption. He had claimed that local politics were financed by money from drug trafficking. He was well known for supporting the Conservative Party and President Alvaro Uribe. A source who requested anonymity said he also was a PR consultant for local politicians.
The official in charge of the investigation, Col. José Henao, said he did not yet have any suspects. But because Palacios’ programmes were controversial, it appears to be the assumption that he was killed because of his work. Journalists reached by Reporters Without Borders said they also feared for their lives.
Reporters Without Borders issued a statement in June 2004 about threats and attacks against five journalists in Cúcuta. Jorge Elias Corredor of the radio station La Voz del Norte was the target of a murder attempt on 22 April 2004 in which his daughter-in-law was killed. There were three bomb attacks on media targets in Cúcuta in the course of a single month in late 2002.