U.S. Certifies Colombian 'Progress' on Rights

By Karen DeYoung<br>Washington Post Staff Writer

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell certified yesterday that the
Colombian armed forces have met the congressionally mandated
requirements to suspend and prosecute alleged human rights violators and
to sever their ties with right-wing paramilitary forces accused of
civilian massacres and other
rights abuses.

Certification was required before the Bush administration could spend
any of the $104 million approved for the Colombian military in the 2002
budget.  U.S. and Colombian officials had warned in recent weeks that
they were curtailing counter- narcotics activities in the southern part
of the country because no money was available.

A State Department statement said that "both we and the Government of
Colombia recognize that the protection of human rights in Colombia needs
improvement." Certification had been held up since early this year,
officials said, while U.S. officials worked with civilian judicial
authorities in Colombia and pressured the government to take more
substantive action.

The statement yesterday said that "real progress" has been made. But
human rights groups -- including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty
International and the Washington Office on Latin America -- criticized
the decision, saying that the Colombian government has failed "to take
even minimal steps to meet" the
congressional conditions.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who wrote the restrictions, commended the
State Department for urging the Colombian government to do more. "But
the proof is in the results," he said, "and the results are
disappointing. . . . This certification has more to do with the fact
that U.S. aid was running out than with sufficient progress on human
rights."

Congress required Powell to certify progress in three areas: suspension
of  armed forces members credibly alleged to have committed gross
violations of human rights, or to have aided or abetted paramilitary
groups; armed forces cooperation with civilian judicial authorities in
prosecuting and punishing such members in civilian courts; effective
measures taken to sever military links with paramilitary forces.

Leahy and others have long been concerned that the zeal of the U.S. and
Colombian military in combating the 6,000-troop-strong leftist
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has led them to turn a
blind eye or, in the case of the Colombian military, to collaborate with
the paramilitary United Self Defense Forces, or AUC. Pentagon
assessments have concluded that the AUC poses a greater long-term threat
to Colombian stability than does the FARC.

Formed and funded in the 1980s by landowners who charged that the
military was incapable of defending them against guerrilla attacks and
extortion, paramilitary groups were declared illegal by the Colombian
government in 1989. Since then, the AUC and the FARC have become
involved in the production and export of cocaine and heroin and have
been designated "foreign terrorist organizations" by the State
Department. The AUC is held
responsible by the State Department and by Colombian and U.S. human
rights groups for the majority of the thousands of civilian killings
each year in Colombia. The State Department estimates that the AUC has
more than 10,000 combatants.

As evidence of progress against the paramilitary forces, a senior
administration official told reporters that the second highest ranking
officer in the Colombian Navy, Gen. Rodrigo Quinones, has been
transferred to administrative duties because of allegations of
complicity in two of the largest AUC massacres in recent years. But
human rights organizations noted that, despite the credibility of the
allegations, Quinones has not been suspended from the military nor
turned over to civilian jurisdiction. Last month, he was appointed
military attaché to the Colombian Embassy in Israel.