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Colombia8 February 2006

Death threats force The New Herald correspondent to flee

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today that Olga Cecilia Vega, a correspondent for the Miami-based Spanish-language daily The New Herald, was forced to flee the southern city of Florencia where she lived and worked because of repeated threats ever since she interviewed one of the leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) last October.

“Vega’s plight once again shows how the Colombian press is dying in the war zones,” the press freedom organisation said. “Journalists now have to choose between flight or death. Vega, who was already forced into exile once, is the second journalist to have to flee the region where they work since the start of the year.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Eight other journalists suffered the same fate last year. When will this exodus stop? We call on the Colombia authorities to shed every possible light on this case, in which state agents could be involved.”

The Florencia region where Vega worked is a war zone. It was in this region that last October she interviewed Raúl Reyes, who is considered to be the FARC’s deputy commander. According to FLIP, a local press freedom group, two men went to her hotel on 28 January and told the manager: “Tell this ‘guerrilla’ that she has 48 hours to leave Florencia.”

In the days prior to this visit, she had received anonymous phone calls telling her that the hotel where she lived would be blown up if she did not leave.

Vega said she thought the threats were made by the state security agents who took to following her after her interview with Reyes and who were thought to be the source of rumours that she was Reyes’ mistress. Just before leaving Florencia on 1 February, Vega received a visit in her office from two men who confirmed they had followed her and gathered information about her.

While working for RCN Radio in 2002, Vega was the target of two attempts on her life and threats from the right-wing paramilitaries of the United Self-Defence Groups of Colombia (AUC) while she was covering peace talks with the FARC. As a result, she had to leave Colombia for several months.

Two armed men who are arrested in March 2005 were found to be in possession of extensive videotape footage of her taken during the three months from January to March 2004. The two men were released soon afterwards.

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