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Colombia24 July 2002

Violence against journalists increases

Reporters Without Borders today expressed its extreme concern about increasing violence against journalists in Colombia and continued attempts to intimidate them in a climate of terror after an attempt, apparently by anti-government rebels, to kill two journalists in Medellín on 23 July.

"The exact reasons for this crime are not yet clear, but these journalists are just two more victims of the violence their profession is up against in your country," said the organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard, in a letter to Colombian justice minister Rómulo González Trujillo calling for a thorough investigation. "It is vital that those responsible are found and punished."

The two journalists, Jorge Carvalho, former head of the Medellín radio station Todelar, and Fernando Vera, head of the local news station El Clarín, were wounded when a bomb went off in a city café, killing a former member of parliament and wounding eight other people.

The authorities said a group of men threw the bomb, which was in a bag, out of a passing car while journalists and politicians were chatting in the San Joaquin café, as had been their daily custom there for several years. The government said first signs were that the attack had been carried out by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas.

Reporters Without Borders repeated its concern about the climate of terror for journalists working Colombia in the wake of the FARC’s apparent designation on 18 and 19 July of more journalists as "military targets." Two such journalists have been forced to go into exile so far this month.

Ménard appealed to FARC commander-in-chief Manuel Marulanda to respect Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which protects people caught up in war against their will. "It is time the armed groups stop treating journalists as targets and controlling news as a goal," he said in a letter. He also called on the government to spend more on its national programme to protect journalists so that they got proper protection, thus guaranteeing the existence of journalism in the country.

A statement signed by FARC’s branch in western Colombia, the Manuel Cepada Vargas urban front, and sent to the RCN media group in Cali, warned eight journalists they would be attacked if they did not leave the city within three days. The eight were Albeiro Echavarría of the TV station Noticinco, Álvaro Miguel Mina of Radio Caracol, Luis Eduardo Reyes of RCN Radio, Diego Martínez Lloreda, deputy managing editor of the daily El País, Humberto Briñez and Wilson Barco, correspondents for RCN TV in Cali, Hugo Palomari of Caracol TV and freelance journalist Mario Fernando Prado. All were accused of working for the government and of being "enemies of the people, defending the interests of the ruling oligarchy.

The authorities said they doubted the statement was genuine, but several of the targeted journalists, including Briñez and Barco, said they had already had threats. However another FARC statement, again not proven authentic, was sent to the main offices of Bogota’s Radio Super on 18 July, accusing the Caracol and RCN media groups of not telling the truth and of "de-legitimising and smearing" the FARC’s guerrilla activities.

Carlos Lajud, of the local Bogota TV station City TV, and Astrid Legarda, of RCN TV, have left the country after receiving threats from the FARC. Lajud and his wife left on 16 July after getting a written death threat to them and their family delivered to City TV’s offices on 4 April after he criticising the guerrillas on the air. Lagarda left Colombia on 3 July after hearing that the FARC did not like her reporting and were planning to kill her. She had written several reports about the fighting between the FARC and the AUC paramilitary forces, whose leaders she had interviewed many times.

Journalists have become a major target in the fighting between the AUC, the Marxist FARC and the Guevarist National Liberation Army (ELN). The leaders of all three groups - Carlos Castaño (AUC), Manuel Marulanda (FARC) and Nicolas Rodríguez Bautista (ELN) - are on the worldwide list of predators of press freedom compiled by Reporters Without Borders. About 40 journalists have been killed in Colombia since 1991, making it Latin America’s most dangerous country for journalists.



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