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Judges Say They’ll File Impeachment Petition President for Army Assault

November 13, 1985

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Superior Court judges in Ibague said Tuesday they will file an impeachment petition against President Belisario Betancur for his handling of the raid by left-wing guerrillas on the Palace of Justice.

A Justice Ministry statement said 95 people, including 11 Supreme Court justices and 33 other judges, were killed in the fighting between security forces and rebels who seized the federal court building in downtown Bogota on Nov. 6. Army troops recaptured the Palace of Justice in a furious assault after a 28-hour siege.

Many of the victims perished when a fire swept through the five-story building last Wednesday night.

All of the rebels were slain. The Justice Ministry said at least 35 guerrillas of the April 19 Movement took part in the raid, but the exact number may never be known because many charred bodies could not be identified.

The federal judges of the Superior Court in Ibague, 125 miles west of Bogota, said they would file an impeachment petition with the congressional committee responsible for judging the merit of such legal action.

If the committee approves the petition, impeachment proceedings would begin in the 111-member Senate.

Betancur heads the Conservative Party, and the opposition Liberals hold 60 percent of the Senate seats.

The Ibague judges said they were taking the action because of ″the inhuman and vituperative decision to not order a cease-fire, taking into account the lives of the country’s highest judges were more important than the capture of a few subversives.″

The National Association of Judicial Workers said it also would file a suit against Betancur in the Internal Court of Justice.

Colombia’s legal system remained at a standstill as magistrates and court workers continued a strike protesting Betancur’s order for the army assault.

Ivan Motto, executive scretary of the union representing the court workers, said the strikers are demanding the ouster of the defense minister, Gen. Miguel Vega.

Betancur said Thursday night in a televised address that the guerrilla takeover ″was not negotiable.″

During the siege, the only government communication with the guerrillas made public was a promise that if the rebels freed the hostages and surrendered they would not be killed and would receive a fair trial.

Betancur said later that his government had done everything it could to negotiate with the guerrillas.

The government announced Tuesday that two more extraditions of Colombians to the United States to face drug charges had been approved by the Supreme Court and signed by Betancur just before the guerrilla raid.

Betancur and some of his Cabinet members have suggested the guerrillas were collaborating with drug traffickers and that the rebels tried to burn extradition documents in the Palace of Justice. They had burned bundles of court documents soon after they seized the building, but the devastating fire broke out later in the evening.

The United States has asked for the extradition of more than 60 Colombians on drug charges.

A Bogota newspaper, El Tiempo, said Tuesday the government is investigating the ″probable″ participation of Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan leftists in the guerrilla attack. It attributed its report to unidentified military sources.

The Defense Department’s public affairs office did not return four telephone calls The Associated Press made to ask about the El Tiempo report.

Colombia broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1981, claiming that President Fidel Castro’s army had trained and equipped more than 130 April 19 Movement field commanders and sent them back to Colombia.

The movement takes its name from the 1970 presidential election that the rebels claim was fraudulent.

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