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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
01BOGOTA500 2001-01-19 22:42:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bogota
Cable title:  

LATEST MASSACRE PART OF ON-GOING PARA OFFENSIVE

Tags:   PGOV PTER PHUM CO 
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1. CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR ANNE W. PATTERSON. REASONS:
1.5(C,D).



2. (C) SUMMARY: ON JANUARY 17, SOME 26 RESIDENTS OF A
COMMUNITY NEAR THE TOWN OF OVEJAS IN NORTHERN SUCRE
DEPARTMENT WERE MASSACRED, APPARENTLY BY PARAMILITARIES
BELONGING TO THE NORTHERN BLOCK OF SELF-DEFENSE GROUPS
OPERATING ON THE ATLANTIC COAST OF COLOMBIA. A THIRD OF
THE COMMUNITY HOUSES WERE BURNED DOWN AND MOST OF ITS
RESIDENTS FLED TO OVEJAS. ONE EMBASSY INTERLOCUTOR SAID
"THE COMMUNITY IS NOW VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTENT." ACCORDING
TO A COLOMBIAN NAVAL INTELLIGENCE CONTACT, THE PARA ATTACK
IS PART OF AN ON-GOING CAMPAIGN TO DISLODGE THE FARC 37TH
FRONT FROM THE STRATEGIC MONTES DE MARIA MOUNTAIN RANGE
AND TO PUSH THE FARC OUT OF THE NORTH ATLANTIC COAST. THE
PARA ATTACKS/MASSACRES AGAINST CIVILIAN POPULATIONS ARE
LIKELY TO CONTINUE, ESPECIALLY IN SUCRE. THE COLOMBIAN
NAVY'S MARINE CORPS HAS LAUNCHED A MAJOR OPERATION TO
SURROUND THE AREA OF THE MASSACRE AND TRY TO CAPTURE THE
CULPRITS. END SUMMARY.



3. (U) ON JANUARY 17, SOME 26 RESIDENTS OF A SMALL
COMMUNITY KNOWN AS CHENGUE NEAR THE TOWN OF OVEJAS IN
NORTHERN SUCRE DEPARTMENT WERE MASSACRED, APPARENTLY BY
THE CENTAURO (NORTHERN) BLOCK OF SELF-DEFENSE GROUPS
OPERATING IN AND AROUND THE ATLANTIC COAST OF COLOMBIA.
THE CENTAURO BLOCK IS REPORTEDLY LED BY RODRIGO ANTONIO
MERCADO, ALIAS "CADENA," A CLOSE AFFILIATE OF UNITED SELF-
DEFENSE FORCES OF COLOMBIA (AUC) LEADER CARLOS CASTANO.
ON JANUARY 19, CASTANO CONDEMNED THE MASSACRE AND DENIED
HIS INVOLVEMENT, BUT ACKNOWLEDGED THAT HIS NORTHERN FRONT
HAD BEEN RESPONSIBLE AND THAT THEY HAD "GONE OVERBOARD."
THE MASSACRE FOLLOWS A STRING OF PARAMILITARY MASSACRES
ON/ALONG ATLANTIC COASTAL AREAS DATING BACK TO THE
FEBRUARY 16, 1999 MASSACRE OF 28 RESIDENTS OF EL SALADO IN
NORTHERN BOLIVAR DEPARTMENT.



4. (C) POLICE AND NAVAL INTELLIGENCE PUBLICLY ATTRIBUTED
THE EVER-INCREASING NUMBER OF MASSACRES ALONG THE ATLANTIC
COAST TO AN ATTEMPT BY THE SELF-DEFENSE FORCES TO: (A)
"CLEANSE" THE NORTHERN AREAS OF SUCRE, BOLIVAR, ATLANTICO,
MAGDALENA, AND CESAR DEPARTMENTS OF THE FARC, MUCH AS THEY
HAVE ALREADY DONE IN CORDOBA DEPARTMENT, (B) CONTROL THE
NORTH COAST, INCLUDING THE MORROSQUILLO GULF IN SUCRE AND
OTHER KEY SMALL PORTS, TO EXERCISE A MONOPOLY OVER ENTRY
OF ARMS AND PRECURSORS AND EXIT OF COCAINE, AND, (C)
SPECIFICALLY IN AND AROUND SUCRE AND BOLIVAR DEPARTMENTS,
DISLODGE THE FARC'S 35TH AND 37TH FRONTS FROM THE RICH
CATTLE AND AGRICULTURAL REGION SURROUNDING THE MONTES DE
MARIA.



5. (C) DURING A JANUARY 18 BRIEFING, A HIGH RANKING
COLOMBIAN NAVAL INTELLIGENCE CONTACT TOLD POLOFF THAT
CHENGUE WAS A MILITARY TARGET FOR THE PARAS BECAUSE IT
SERVED AS AN ENTRY POINT INTO THE MONTES DE MARIA, WHERE
THE FARC 37TH FRONT OPERATES, AND THAT THE CHENGUE
COMMUNITY SERVED AS A RESUPPLY AND R AND R POINT FOR THE
GUERRILLAS. THE CHENGUE MASSACRE FITS A PATTERN OF PARA
ATTACKS ON SMALL COMMUNITIES ON THE NORTH COAST WHICH, IN
THE PARAS' VIEW, SERVE AS CIVILIAN BASES OF SUPPORT FOR
THE FARC 35 AND 37 FRONTS. THE CONTACT DREW PARALLELS
BETWEEN CHENGUE AND EL SALADO, AFFIRMING THAT EL SALADO
WAS ALSO A FARC STRONGHOLD, AND THAT IT WAS LOCATED ON THE
FOOTHILLS OF THE MONTES DE MARIA. HE CONFIDED THAT NAVAL
INTELLIGENCE HAD INDICATIONS THAT THE PARAS WOULD ATTACK
ANOTHER NEARBY COMMUNITY, AND WERE CAUGHT OFF-GUARD WHEN
THE ATTACK TOOK PLACE AT CHENGUE. HE WAS VERY SURPRISED
THAT THE PARAS WERE ABLE TO ENTER CHENGUE UNDETECTED
SINCE, IN HIS VIEW, THE FARC 37TH FRONT COMPLETELY
CONTROLS THE AREA AROUND CHENGUE.



6. (C) THE CONTACT FIRMLY BELIEVES THAT THESE TYPES OF
INCIDENTS WILL CONTINUE AS THE PARAS AND FARC FIGHT OVER
CONTROL OF THE ATLANTIC COAST, AND ESPECIALLY FOR CONTROL
OF THE MONTES DE MARIA. HE ADDED THAT THE PARA NORTH
BLOCK IS BEING HEAVILY FINANCED BY CATTLE RANCHERS FROM
SUCRE, CORDOBA, AND OTHER ATLANTIC DEPARTMENTS, WHO HAVE
BEEN HURT BY FARC KIDNAPPINGS, EXTORTIONS, AND CATTLE
RUSTLING. THESE RANCHERS ARE HOPING THE PARAS WILL DRIVE
THE FARC OUT OF THEIR AREAS SO THAT THEY TOO CAN HAVE THE
"RELATIVE PEACE" THEIR FELLOW RANCHERS ENJOY IN LARGE
PARTS OF CORDOBA.



7. (U) COLOMBIAN NATIONAL JUDICIAL POLICE (DIJIN) FIGURES
ON MASSACRES DURING 2000, RELEASED ON JANUARY 18,
CORROBORATE THE FACT THAT THE ATLANTIC COAST IS SEEING THE
LARGEST INCREASE IN PARA KILLINGS IN THE COUNTRY.
ACCORDING TO THE FIGURES, AT LEAST HALF OF ALL THE
EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS IN 2000 TOOK PLACE IN ATLANTIC
COAST DEPARTMENTS. OF ALL COLOMBIAN DEPARTMENTS, BOLIVAR
HAD THE LARGEST NUMBER OF PARA MURDERS, WITH 76. SUCRE
DEPARTMENT REGISTERED 46 PARA-ATTRIBUTED KILLINGS.
ACCORDING TO FIGURES CITED IN A RECENT COLOMBIAN MILITARY
BRIEFING TO VISITING DOD OFFICIALS, THERE HAVE BEEN
SEVENTEEN MASSACRES THIS YEAR, NOT INCLUDING CHENGUE. OF
THESE, TWO HAVE BEEN COMMITTED BY THE FARC, ONE BY THE
ELN, TEN BY PARA GROUPS, AND THE REST HAVE NOT YET BEEN
ATTRIBUTED.



8. (C) COMMENT: IF STATISTICAL TRENDS AND COLOMBIAN NAVAL
INTELLIGENCE ARE CORRECT, PARA MASSACRES OF CIVILIAN
POPULATIONS WILL CONTINUE TO OCCUR IN THE ATLANTIC COAST,
AND MAY EVEN INTENSIFY AS THE PARA NORTH BLOCK AND THE
FARC'S 35 AND 37 BLOCK FIGHT FOR CONTROL OF THE MONTES DE
MARIA AND ACCESS TO ATLANTIC PORTS. THE COLOMBIAN NAVY,
WHICH HAS SECURITY RESPONSIBILITY FOR THESE AREAS, SEEMS
TO HAVE REACTED FAIRLY QUICKLY TO THE MASSACRE, AND HAS
DEPLOYED MORE THAN 1,000 MARINES AND SPECIAL FORCES IN
PURSUIT OF THE CULPRITS. HOWEVER, AS THE NAVY CONTACT
ACKNOWLEDGED, THE PARAS ALSO HAVE A VERY STRONG BASE OF
SUPPORT IN THE AREA AND CAN EASILY DISAPPEAR AMONG THE
CIVILIAN POPULATION.


PATTERSON


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