Colombia Suspends 7 in Military After Children’s Killings
By SIMON ROMERO
Published: November 3, 2010
CARACAS, Venezuela — Colombia’s army has suspended seven officers and soldiers for failing to control their troops in connection with the brutal murders last month of three impoverished children near Colombia’s northeast border with Venezuela.
The killings have stirred outrage among human rights groups in Colombia. Medical examiners determined that one of the children, Yenni Torres, 14, was raped before she was killed. Her body and those of her brothers, Jimmy, 9, and Jefferson, 6, were found on Oct. 14 in a shallow grave near the town of Tame in rural Arauca, a war-torn border region.
One of the suspended officers, Second Lt. Raúl Muñoz, has acknowledged raping Yenni Torres before she was killed, Gen. Alejandro Navas, commander of the army, said Wednesday on Caracol Radio. General Navas said Lieutenant Muñoz had also confessed to having raped a 13-year-old girl in a separate episode near Tame on Oct. 2.
But Lieutenant Muñoz asserted that he was not involved in killing the three Torres children, General Navas said. The authorities in Arauca arrested Lieutenant Muñoz on Wednesday.
The connection of the other suspended men to the killings remains unclear, aside from the supervisory roles they had in the area. In addition to Lieutenant Muñoz, two colonels, a major and three noncommissioned officers were suspended.
The suspensions, which were announced Tuesday night by the army’s high command, raised new questions about abuses by Colombia’s armed forces, which are a major recipient of security assistance and training from the United States. Despite the Colombian military’s recent strides against rebel groups, its reputation remains tarnished by a 2008 scandal in which soldiers killed civilians, then classified the victims as subversives to inflate statistics about the number of rebels killed in combat.
Sandra Lorena, a human rights official in Arauca, said of the murders of the three children, “These killings have left us perplexed.”
On Oct. 14, residents of the village of Temblador, near Tame, found the children buried together. Their father, José Torres, 49, a farm worker, had reported them missing the day before. With the help of Red Cross officials, Mr. Torres himself took part in recovering their bodies. All three children had wounds from a sharp object in their necks and heads.
Mystery still shrouds the killings, though some of the details that have emerged have shocked some in Colombia, a country that has grown somewhat numbed to atrocities during decades of war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Tame and surrounding areas rank among Colombia’s most dangerous. A bomb placed on a bicycle was detonated in Tame by remote control in mid-October, wounding four soldiers and three civilians. Earlier in October, the army killed two midlevel FARC commanders near Tame.
A unit of the Colombian Army’s Mobile Brigade No. 5 was camped several hundred feet from the site of the Torres children’s grave around the time when the three were killed. Investigators think that whoever killed them and dug the grave needed tight control of the area, according to a report by Semana, a Colombian news magazine.
The Colombian authorities said that an inquiry was continuing and that it involved DNA samples from the children and 60 soldiers from Mobile Brigade No. 5.
Jenny Carolina González contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia.
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