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Colombia26 June 2007

Targeted by drug baron, regional daily’s editor poised to flee the country

Reporters Without Borders today called on the human rights section of the national police to protect Rubén Valencia, the editor of the Cali-based regional daily Q’hubo, who has been getting death threats since reporting drug baron Olmes Durán Ibargüen’s arrest and who is on the point of fleeing the country. He would be the third journalist to do so this year.

“Threats against the press from traffickers, like those from paramilitaries or guerrillas, are too often the prelude to tragic reprisals,” the press freedom organisation said. “The authorities must quickly establish whether Durán really is behind these threats against Valencia and whether he has put out a contract on him.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Meanwhile, we call on the national police’s human rights group to set up effective protection for Valencia if it has not already done so, and we hope that he will be able to go back to work soon.”

Known as “El Doctor” and regarded as one of the leading Pacific-coast drug barons, Durán was arrested in the capital on 15 June. Q’hubo, which is owned by El País, a press group based in the southwestern city of Cali, was the first news media to report his arrest.

The Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP), Reporters Without Borders’ Colombian partner organisation, reported on 23 June that “El Doctor” was said to have ordered Valencia’s murder or failing that, the murder of a member of his family.

The El País group told FLIP that it was making arrangements for Valencia to go abroad. He would be the third journalist to have to flee since the start of the year. Radio Caracol news director Darío Arizmendi Posada fled in March after receiving threats from an unidentified group (see release of 19 March). Germán Hernández Vera, the editor of the Diario del Huila, a daily based in the southwestern city of Neiva, also fled in March (see release of 27 March). He had long been in the sights of the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The Pacific cartel that “El Doctor” belongs to is headed by Diego Montoya, also known as “Don Diego,” who is wanted by the police. The US government, which wants him extradited, has put a 5-million-dollar reward on his head.

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