Colombian militia chiefs offer to confess atrocities


November 23, 2006

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- The imprisoned leaders of Colombia's right-wing militias called Thursday for the creation of a truth commission where they can confess their actions in the brutal civil war.

The announcement came as a scandal deepened over ties between the paramilitaries, responsible for thousands of killings, and Colombia's political class.

"We understand and accept that a fundamental part of the Justice and Peace Law lies in the confession of the truth of what occurred in the recent history of our national tragedy," said a statement signed by all the paramilitary leaders who have been held at a special prison for two months as part of a peace deal with the government.

The warlords, accused of some of the worst atrocities in Colombia's five-decade conflict pitting the government and far-right militias against leftist rebels, also urged their supporters to confess.

"We ask publicly that those who urged us on, collaborators and direct beneficiaries, the businessmen, industrialists and political leaders ... members of the security forces, join us in this task without apprehension or fear," the statement said.

The paramilitaries' targets included leftist guerrillas, their civilian supporters, civic leaders, human rights workers, journalists and anyone who revealed the extent of the paramilitaries' infiltration of Colombia's public institutions.

Authorities are investigating five politicians, including a former governor and two senators, for ties to the paramilitaries, with some accused of murder, helping to steal public funds and extortion.

As part of the peace deal, which saw the demobilization of more than 30,000 fighters, the leaders will stand trial in special tribunals where they can be sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison.