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Colombia7 August 2002

Paramilitaries threaten journalists in Arauca Department

Journalists in Arauca Department were threatened by paramilitaries of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) in a communiqué sent by e-mail on 29 July to radio Meridiano 70 and the correspondent of Caracol TV, Rodrigo Avila. The "Victors of Arauca" section of the AUC announced in the communiqué that "journalists, presenters and correspondents, together with media managers and owners" in Arauca Department would be considered "military targets" for having failed to understand that "they must cooperate with justice".

According to Avila, trade unionists and workers at a local energy company, together with their families, received identical threats on 6, 7 and 8 July because they are considered to be guerrilla "sympathizers". The 29 July communiqué concluded, "There are several persons on our lists we are looking into. Some of them already know it. Others will know soon, and there is no point trying to hide". Since the murder of Meridiano 70 owner Efraín Varela on 28 June, five journalists have fled the region after learning their names were on AUC execution lists. Two have returned and are currently receiving government protection.

06.04.2002 - Two colleagues of Efraín Alberto Varela Noriega threatened

Luis Eduardo Alfonso, a colleague of murdered radio journalist Efraín Alberto Varela Noriega, fled Arauca on 30 June after learning his name was on the paramilitary AUC’s list of "military targets." On 9 March, he got a telephoned death threat from people who said they were from the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

On 29 June, a few hours after Varela Noriega was killed, another of his colleagues, Josédil Gutiérrez, received death threats when two anonymous calls to Meridiano 70 from people who said they belonged to the AUC gave him 24 hours to leave town. So far he has refused to leave for fear of reprisals against his family if he does. Over the previous month, Gutiérrez had co-presented the "Hablemos de Politica" ("Let’s Talk Politics") programme with Varela Noriega.

06.01.2002 - Journalist killed near Arauca

Reporters Without Borders has expressed its very great concern at the murder of Efraín Alberto Varela Noriega, head of a local radio station, Meridiano 70, in the northeastern province of Arauca on 28 June.

"It is vital that those responsible be arrested and tried," said the organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard, in a letter to Colombia’s chief prosecutor, Luis Camilo Osorio, calling for a speedy investigation with the results made public.

Armed groups were reportedly responsible and Reporters Without Borders notes that 40 journalists have been killed in Colombia over the past decade in the course of the civil war between rightwing paramilitary forces and leftwing guerrillas. "Killing a journalist because you don’t like the way he reports the war is absolutely disgraceful," Ménard wrote.

Varela Noriega was killed on the road between the town of Arauca and the Caño Limón oilfield as he returned from Arauca University with his sister-in-law and brother-in-law. Their vehicle, which had Meridiano 70 written on it, was reportedly stopped five kms outside Arauca by unidentified armed men who forced him to get out and then shot him in the back and the neck. His body was found a few metres off the road.

The journalist had been threatened several times by the paramilitaries and the guerrillas and, according to the station Radionet, his name had been added two weeks earlier to a list of 150 people designated "military targets" by the AUC (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia) paramilitaries.

Six days before he was killed, he had announced on the air that about 100 AUC men had arrived in the town of Arauca. Varela Noriega, also a lawyer, was a well-known human rights activist. In his programme on Meridiano 70, he sharply criticised local elected officials and the various armed groups.

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