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Colombia - 2003 Annual Report (Part 2)

Three journalists working for radio Meridiano 70 in Arauca (in the northeastern department of Arauca) received death threats beginning on 29 June, the day after the station’s director, Efraín Alberto Varela Noriega was gunned down by presumed AUC paramilitaries. Two of the journalists, Rodrigo Ávila and José Dil Gutiérrez, received telephone calls from suspected AUC members giving them a few hours to leave the area. The third, Luis Eduardo Alfonso, was told his name appeared on a list of people declared "military targets" by the AUC.
Astrid Legarda of RCN Televisión left Colombia on 3 July after being told of an alleged FARC plan to kill her. The FARC apparently did not appreciate her coverage of the war, especially her reporting of clashes between the paramilitaries and guerrillas in which she interviewed AUC chiefs several times.
Manuel Benavides, correspondent in San Pablo (in the southwestern department of Nariño) for the daily Diario Del Sur, was "advised" to leave the area on 9 July by the AUC paramilitaries, who thought he favoured the FARC guerrillas, especially in his reporting of the fierce clashes between paramilitaries and guerrillas for the control of the nearby port of Tumaco.
On 9 July, two armed men presumed to be AUC paramilitaries threatened Anyela Muñoz Trujillo, owner and editor of El Vocero, a weekly based in Barrancabermeja (in the northern department of Santander). They said they would kill one of her journalists if the next day’s issue of the weekly reported certain local killings in a "sensationalist" manner. Staff at the weekly La Tarde received a similar threat the same day while a car followed Janeth Ojeda, editor of the weekly La Noticia. The day before, commander "Alex" of the AUC’s "central column" had given an interview to the local daily Vanguardia Liberal in which he threatened to target the press if they continued covering the local news in a "sensationalist" fashion. Another AUC leader confirmed on 9 July that the paramilitaries would carry out their threats if the newspaper did not report the news "in a less extreme manner." The weekly El Espectador said the threats against the Barrancabermeja press began in December 2000 when the AUC first arrived in the city.
Carlos Lajud of the Bogotá-based local television station City TV left Colombia with his wife on 16 July as a result of receiving a letter in early April at the TV station making death threats against him and his family. Lajud had highlighted the presence of ELN and FARC guerrillas in Bogotá in his reports.
In a communique sent to the headquarters of the RCN group in the southwestern city of Cali on 19 July, the FARC accused eight journalists of being "enemies of the people who defend the interests of the oligarchy" and threatened to target them if they did not leave the city within 72 hours. The eight were Humberto Briñez and Wilson Barco, both RCN Televisión correspondents in Cali, Albeiro Echavarría of the TV channel Noticinco, Álvaro Miguel Mina of Radio Caracol, Luis Eduardo Reyes of RCN Radio, Diego Martínez Lloreda, deputy managing editor of the daily El País, Hugo Palomari of Caracol TV and freelancer Mario Fernando Prado.
Luis Eduardo Silva Arce and Cesar Augusto Cataño Espinoza, presenters of the programme "Tribuna Abierta" on radio Montenegro Estéreo in Montenegro (in the western department of Quindio), left the city on 2 August after receiving death threats that could have resulted from their criticism of certain officials in the municipal government of Montenegro and nearby Armenia.
Five journalists in the northeastern department of Arauca were declared "military targets" on 24 September in a communique believed to come from a paramilitary group calling itself the Bloque Vencedores de Arauca. The journalists included Carmen Rosa Pabon of the radio station La Voz de Cinaruco, based in the town of Arauca. After being told there was also a possibility of a FARC attack against her, Pabon left the region. Thereafter, her radio station just carried official press releases and non-controversial news. Augusto Báez of Tame Estéreo, another the radio station in Arauca, also left the region after receiving threats.
Ramiro Egas, a presenter with Radio Su Defensor, the ombudsman radio station in Pasto (in the southwestern department de Nariño), left the city at the end of September because paramilitaries had been enquiring about his movements for the past two months and he had seen strangers hanging around his home. Egas had reported on human rights violation in the region for the radio station.

Pressure and obstruction
A car-bomb exploded near the headquarters of the TV channel Caracol TV in Bogotá on 30 January 2002. No one was hurt but it caused considerable damage. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. Investigators were not sure whether the TV station was the target. Police said the car was left by three gunmen who then opened fire on a nearby police post.
T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times and his fixer were detained by FARC guerrillas on 19 February while reporting in the south of the country, and were held for 24 hours, The FARC said it had to detain the two men to verify their accreditation, stressing that it had nothing against the international news media, unlike the Colombian press which, it said, had sold out to the oligarchy and bourgeoisie.
In a communique on 22 February, the AUC accused the news editor of the TV channel Telepacífico of "maliciously" broadcasting a "mendacious" report the day before that guerrillas had executed paramilitaries who were about to massacre civilians. The AUC accused the TV station of trying to "portray the guerrilla terrorists as heroes."
Alain Keler, a photographer with the French magazine Marie-Claire, was briefly kidnapped by the FARC on 23 February while accompanying the Green Oxygen party presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in the San Vicente del Caguán region. Keler and two of Betancourt’s advisers were released the next morning, but Betancourt remained a captive of the FARC.
Around 10 FARC guerrillas forced the staff of radio Onda Zero in Acevedo (in the southern department de Huila) to stop broadcasting on 28 February, accusing them of defending the interests of the government. The guerrillas confiscated equipment and threatened that anyone who talked about the incident would be declared a "military target." One of the station’s journalists, Divier Alexánder López, fled the area the next day, fearing for his life.
An RCN television crew was detained for four hours on 6 April by FARC guerrillas in Pulí, a village to the east of Bogotá (in Cundinamarca department). The crew had gone there to cover an attack by the FARC’s "42nd Front" and as they left the village, they were stopped by about 10 guerrillas, who insulted and threatened them, and confiscated their vehicle and equipment before letting them go. The crew consisted of reporter Adriana Aristizábal, cameraman Andrés Reina and driver Joaquín Gómez.
A bomb exploded on 7 April near the studios of Radio Súper in the city of Villavicencio, southeast of Bogotá, killing 12 people. Aides of then presidential candidate Álvaro Uribe said the FARC had targeted the radio station because it had carried Uribe’s campaign spots. But the station’s staff disputed this, arguing that a nearby police station may have been the target.
The offices of RCN TV on the west side of Bogotá were the target of an attempted attack on 12 April by two men on a motorcycle who were seen firing a home-made rocket from a distance of 200 metres. The rocket fell 50 metres short of the TV network’s offices and caused no damage. No group claimed responsibility but the police attributed it to the FARC, which was alleged to have been behind a series of attacks in the capital for the past three days.
A car bomb parked 10 metres away from the headquarters of the daily El Tiempo in Bogotá was discovered and defused by police on 28 April. The police said the device had not been activated and the newspaper was not targeted. But the army insisted in a communique that the newspaper was indeed the target. Some commentators suggested that it was an act of intimidation. For the preceding three weeks, Bogotá had been hit by a wave of bombings blamed on the FARC.
Two RCN Radio employees (driver Luis Eduardo Perdomo and technician José Rodríguez) and two Radio Caracol employees (driver Elio Fabio Giraldo and technician Oscar González) were kidnapped on 8 July in the central department of Tolima by presumed FARC guerrillas while covering the around-Colombia cycling race. They were freed four days later but their abductors kept their vehicles and equipment because their employers refused to pay any money.
A communique said to have come from the FARC was received at the headquarters of Radio Súper in Bogotá on 18 July, in the which the Caracol and RCN press groups were accused of lying and of "discrediting and demonizing the subversive actions" of the guerrillas. The statement’s authenticity was unproven.
President Álvaro Uribe signed a decree on 10 September setting up "special rehabilitation and consolidation zones" in the areas where armed groups were well established. The special zones were placed under the direct authority of a military commander and the supervision of the governor. The decree required foreign journalists and Colombian journalists working for foreign news media to obtain permission from the interior ministry in order to enter the zones. It allowed arrests and searches of homes without a warrant, and it allowed the military to tap telephones and intercept mail on just the verbal authorisation of a judge. Interior minister Fernando Londoño said these measures aimed to prevent armed groups from "getting in touch with foreign terrorists," after the arrest of three presumed IRA members in 2001. The measures were taken under the state of exception decreed by President Uribe on 12 August. The constitutional court ruled on 26 November that several of the provisions were unconstitutional. The court said that "no journalist, whether Colombian or foreign, is obliged to request an authorisation of this kind because it violates the freedom of press and information." The court also said it was unconstitutional for police investigative powers to be given to the army.
A bomb went off on 13 November near the offices of RCN radio in Cúcuta (in the northern department of Norte de Santander), injuring four people and causing damage. A week later, authorities defused another bomb that had been left outside the daily La Opinión in Cúcuta. The news media in Norte de Santander were often the target of pressure from the different armed groups that were fighting for control of the area and wanted favourable news coverage.
Starting on 13 November, the community radio station Radio DIC stopped broadcasting its news programme in the localities of Saravena, Arauquita, Tame and Fortul (in the northeastern department of Arauca) as a result of pressure from a senior army officer after it carried a statement from a civil society organisation the day before accusing army personnel of abuses against the civilian population in the area. Many news media in Arauca department stopped broadcasting information and statements from civil society organisations for fear of reprisals from the authorities.
Radio Catatumbo, an affiliate of the RCN group in Ocaña (in the northern department of Norte de Santander), received a recording believed to have come from the "Armando Cauca Guerrero Front" of the ELN guerrillas on 26 November warning the local news media to stop "working with the army" and "distorting reality." All the armed groups in the Catatumbo area routinely applied pressure on the news media to ensure that their own communiques were broadcast and to discourage broadcasting of the messages put out by their enemies. Staff at Radio Catatumbo said they felt obliged to carry these statements in order to avoid problems.
A bomb went off outside the studios of Radio Caracol and Radio Reloj in Cúcuta (in the northern department of Norte de Santander) on 9 December. No one was hurt, but the two stations sustained considerable damage and were temporarily forced off the air. The attack was claimed by the FARC which accused the stations of "playing into the hands of the Uribe government and the military."
A grenade was thrown against the offices of RCN Televisión in Valledupar (in the northeastern department of César) on 16 December, causing slight damage and no injuries. Broadcasting was not affected. Defence minister Martha Lucía Ramírez said the attack could have been the work of the FARC, which was blamed for a wave of attacks against news media in the region.

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see also
2003 Africa Annual Report
2003 Asia Annual Report
2003 Europe Annual Report
2003 North Africa and the Middle East Annual Report