Colombia Free-Press Group Now ‘Military Target’ Of Death Squad

By: Mark Fitzgerald

For nearly a decade, the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP for its initials in Spanish) has been an internationally respected non-government organization (NGO) reporting to the world from Bogota about the death threats, kidnappings, assassinations and other dangers faced by Colombian journalists.

Now FLIP says that it has been declared a “military target” by an apparent right-wing death squad calling itself “Free Colombia Democratic Front.”

The threat was contained in an e-mails sent recently to FLIP, as well as to Iv?n Cepeda, a columnist for the Bogota weekly; a human rights group formed by lawyers; and two universities.

Addressed to “revolutionaries disguised as NGOs, supposed leaders, lawyers, and journalists masked as civilians hidden behind their columns,” the e-mails accused FLIP and others of being fronts for left-wing guerrillas who are discrediting Colombia in the international community.

“We have begun to prove to you that we’re not playing around, we left the ones in Barranca laid out, that’s where we’ve started, but it won’t be long before we begin taking action in the capitals, like Barranquilla, Medell?n, Cali, Bucaramanga,” and elsewhere, the e-mails read.

The group is apparently referencing recent bomb threats against journalists for the newspaper El Heraldo de Barranquilla. The New York City-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) reported in June that packages made to look like bombs were delivered to the homes of El Heraldo columnists Armando Benedetti Jimeno and Ernesto McCausland Sojo. CPJ said a note in the package warned, “Don’t stick your nose in things that are none of your business. Next time, I will make it explode.”

A similar package was later delivered to the newspaper’s director, Gustavo Bell Lemus, a former vice president of Colombia. Quoting the local press, CPJ reported that the paper had been investigating and criticizing local corruption.

“We are alarmed by the widespread threats against journalists and nongovernmental organizations in Colombia,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a statement. “We call on President Alvaro Uribe to publicly condemn these shocking acts of intimidation, to provide the necessary measures to allow Colombian journalists to continue to do their job in safety, and to urge the attorney general to investigate every threat.”

FLIP is asking the nation’s prosecutor general to provide guarantees for the safety of free-press and free-expression organizations, and urged the government’s High Commissioner for Peace to investigate whether “demobilized armed groups are behind these recent threats to journalists, and this threat in particular.”

Several paramilitaries in the so-called “autonomous self-defense” organization have surrendered weapons in demobilization ceremonies.

FLIP was formed after a forum convened in 1996 by noted Colombian author Gabriel Garcia M?rquez. Its Web site can be found here.

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