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Colombia25 April 2008

Paramilitaries threaten priest who runs community radio station

Reporters Without Borders is worried about death threats made in the past 10 days against Catholic priest Rafael Gallego, the manager of Ecos de Tiquisio, a community radio station in Tiquisio, in the northern department of Bolívar, and the leaders of other civil society organisations in the region.

The threats were made in two email messages signed by the Black Eagles, a branch of the paramilitary alliance known as the United Self-Defence Groups of Colombia (AUC), which has a strong presence in Colombia’s northern departments.

“Community media such as Ecos de Tiquisio play a very important role in local life in Bolívar and are very popular with the local population,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Black Eagles are using these threats to both intimidate the station’s personnel and undermine their credibility, with the aim of consolidating their own influence in a region wracked by armed violence. We urge the Bolívar departmental authorities to protect Father Gallego and all of the station’s personnel.”

The Network of Community Radio Stations of the Mid-Magdalena Region (AREDMAG), of which Ecos de Tiquisio is a member, reported in a 16 April release that death threats had been made against representatives of several regional organisations including Father Gallego in a message signed by Commander Camilo Mora of the Northern Block of the Black Eagles.

It referred to them as “military targets”and announced an “annihilation plan” in which they would be “exterminated one by one.”

A second email was sent by the same group on 19 April, using insulting language to accuse leaders of civil society, religious and human rights groups of complicity with the leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN). The message ended: “ We will begin with you and then we will deal with all the others until no one is left. You sons of bitches, we are going to do you in. For a Colombia without guerrillas.”

A meeting was held the same day in Cartagena, the capital of Bolívar, between the president of the department, central government representatives and Catholic church officials to devise a security plan for the threatened individuals and organisations.

After the meeting, Father Gallego told journalists that he and the other threatened priests had decided to decline the offer of police protection and opt for “the protection that the people themselves offer us.” The departmental authorities nonetheless said a round table would be organised in May with civil society organisations to analyse the situation and step security measures.

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