Colombia sanctions 5 soldiers in murder of ex-guerrilla

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombian authorities are taking disciplinary action against five soldiers for their roles in the violent death of a former guerrilla whose murder has become one of the most notorious crimes during the nation’s peace process.

The attorney general’s office announced Tuesday that former Commander Jorge Armando Pérez will be barred from holding any public position for 20 years after being identified as the mastermind behind Dimar Torres’ death.

The sanction is on top of criminal homicide charges Pérez and four others are facing.

A former member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Torres was killed in April 2019 in the Norte de Santander department bordering Venezuela. Soldiers tried to hide his body, but villagers eventually found his remains.

The case sparked outrage in a country where soldiers killed several thousand civilians over a decade ago during the height of the military’s offensive and counted them as rebels to inflate combat deaths and obtain bonuses.

Then-Defense Minister Guillermo Botero stirred additional anger by initially backing soldier accounts that Torres had been killed during a fight.

Ex-combatants have been killed in alarming numbers since the signing of the historic 2016 accord ending Latin America’s longest-running conflict. According to the U.N. Verification Mission in Colombia, 31 former guerrillas have been killed thus far in 2020 and 204 total since the agreement with rebels was reached.

Most of the deaths are taking place in conflict-ridden parts of the country where armed groups compete over drug routes. Some of the rebels have been killed after rejected attempts by dissident guerrillas to recruit them. Earlier this year, just 23 people had been sentenced in 228 violent crimes against ex-combatants.

Authorities say Pérez gave orders before Torres’ death to find and kill the person responsible for the death of soldier Pablo Emilio Borja. The soldiers claimed Torres was a member of another guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, though in fact he was working as a civilian in agriculture as part of the peace deal.

According to investigators, Daniel Eduardo Gómez shot Torres in the face and back. He then got help from several other soldiers in hiding his body in the woods. Gómez has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for the crime.

Torres’ father, Jose Manuel Torres, testified at a truth commission hearing earlier this year, describing how he boarded plane for the first time in his life after his son’s death to try and find justice for his son with authorities in Bogota.

“The pain of losing a son is very deep,” he said.

According to the U.N., crimes against ex-combatants, social leaders and human rights defenders have continued during the pandemic, which some illegal armed groups have used to strengthen their territorial control where the state has a weak presence.

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