Diego Molano: The Colombian Minister of Defense defends the Putumayo operation although he acknowledges an “inaccuracy” about those captured | International

The Ministers of the Interior, Daniel Palacios, and of Defense, Diego Molano, together with the military leadership in the motion of censure in the Colombian Congress.
The Ministers of the Interior, Daniel Palacios, and of Defense, Diego Molano, together with the military leadership in the motion of censure in the Colombian Congress.RAUL ARBOLEDA (AFP)

Argemiro Hernández, the father of Divier Hernández, one of the eleven killed in the military operation in Alto Remanso (Putumayo), stood on the platform of the House of Representatives and addressed the Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, and the military leadership , seated in the first row of the enclosure. “I have come to tell you that my son was a worker, not a guerrilla, as you have said,” he stated with aplomb. His son, as the community of this rural area located in the south of Colombia has denounced, was the president of the Community Action Board of the population, and was in a bazaar or popular festival when the Army carried out a military incursion that left eleven dead. .

Human rights organizations corroborate that both Divier and Ana María Sarrias, who was pregnant, were recognized civilians and that she bled to death. The Army, for its part, maintains that the eleven belonged to the Border Commandos, a FARC dissident. This Wednesday, Molano faced a motion of censure in Congress that lasted 12 hours and will be voted on next week. The minister defended the operation, although he acknowledged “inaccuracy” about the four captured that the Government announced and that never existed.

The appearance was marked by the presence of survivors. Aníbal Eduardo Cuéllar introduced himself as Divier’s replacement and said that he was mistreated by the soldiers in front of his youngest daughter. “I come here to be physically recognized that I am not alias Bruno as they wanted to identify me. I sincerely ask that justice be done.” The Colombian Army operation sought to capture Carlos Emilio Loaiza known as Bruno, but was unsuccessful. It is not clear if he had already left the place when the military operation was launched. In their place, some members of the dissidents and civilians were killed.

“We show our faces for the civilians, peasants that we distinguished, for the people they are passing off as guerrillas. Be responsible with the statements you make,” the leader and survivor of Alto Remanso, Élber Gómez, also told the military.

The only wounded member of the Army, the professional soldier Róbinson Beleño, also addressed the congressmen. In a wheelchair and with a wound in his arm, he said that during the operation he was shot by a person dressed in civilian clothes. “I was slow to recognize him and he shot me in the arm. I am alive thanks to the reaction of a partner, ”he said. Beleño assured that days before the operation they had already seen armed men mixed with the civilian population.

“There are unreported deaths”

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During the motion of censure, representative Katherine Miranda assured that the dead were not 11 but 13, since there are differences between the list of names that the Army provided with those of Legal Medicine and the Prosecutor’s Office. This was reported by the victims’ lawyer, David Melo, in recent days to this newspaper. The two new deaths that were not reported, according to Miranda, are Lisandro and Daniel Paredes San Juan, and both would have served in the military, according to her information.

“The records of inspection of corpses show that the bodies were in a natural position, that is, face up and also show that the bodies were moved,” said Miranda, who mentioned the indigenous governor Pablo Panduro Coquinche, of whom he presented the certificate of possession. as an indigenous authority to prove that he was a civilian.

The congresswoman for the Historical Pact, María José Pizarro, who took the survivors to the site, also focused on the legitimacy of the operation and said that it should not have been authorized if there were civilians present. “There are prizes, are there medals promised for this fact?”, he questioned the minister to talk about the presence in the operation of a general investigated for 56 cases of false positives, as the practice of murdering civilians and showing them as casualties in combat.

Molano, who is already on his third attempt at a motion of censure, spoke at the end of the afternoon. He said that they had been monitoring the dissidents for a year, that it was not a bazaar but a space for the sale of coca and that the Border Commands force the peasants to go to the bazaars. According to the minister, it was not a false positive. “It is not the type of activities that were developed,” he assured.

According to the chronology presented by the Government, the military had infiltrated the jungle for 15 days and days before the operation they had observed the arrival of armed men. “Of course we knew there was a bazaar”, that is why they would not have acted on the first day of the party, according to their version. Later, he stated that “there were shots from Ecuador, there was crossfire and sustained fire.”

In his speech, which lasted an hour and a half, Molano admitted that the soldiers who participated in the operation did have black uniforms, as the residents denounced, but that they were part of those used by the Army in special operations. On civilians, which was one of the central themes of the motion, he did not respond. He insisted that only the Prosecutor’s Office will be able to determine if these people were members of the armed structure, but he did not present evidence against them. “Here no one can have full identification and their relationship with the dissidents,” he said.

In the end, he had to admit inconsistencies in relation to those captured. On the day of the operation, President Iván Duque assured that four wounded were “criminals” and had been captured, but the Prosecutor’s Office denied having received detainees. “Procedural rigor could not be anticipated and we recognize that this first preliminary version could have been inaccurate,” he said.

Almost at the same time as the day began, in Ocaña, 600 kilometers from the Colombian capital, 10 soldiers recognized for the first time in history that they had killed civilians in the past, passing them off as guerrillas or criminals.

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