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Colombia army general promoted amid human rights concerns

June 6, 2019
FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2018 file photo, Army Commander Gen. Nicacio Martinez Espinel, right, salutes during a swearing-in ceremony for the new military and police commanders, in Bogota, Colombia. New evidence has emerged linking Martinez Espinel to the alleged cover up of civilian killings more than a decade ago. The documents, provided to The Associated Press by a person familiar with an ongoing investigation into the extrajudicial killings, come as Martinez Espinel faces mounting pressure to resign over orders he gave troops this year, 2019, to step up attacks in what some fear could pave the way for a return of serious human rights violations. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The head of Colombia’s army was promoted Wednesday amid an outcry over an order he issued that has stirred fears of a return to serious human rights violations.

The nation’s Senate voted almost unanimously in favor of making Gen. Nicacio Martínez a four-star general, though a faction of detractors refused to vote.

The promotion came as human rights groups clamored for Martínez to step down after revelations that he ordered troops to step up attacks on leftist guerrillas and criminals.

They are voicing concerns that the order could led to a repeat of the “false positives” scandal during the height of Colombia’s conflict with leftist rebel groups. Troops were accused of killing innocent civilians and disguising them as guerrillas so they could earn extra pay.

Documents from the Colombia prosecutor’s office show Martinez signed off on questionable payments to informants during that time. In one purported combat operation, an indigenous civilian and a 13-year-old girl was killed. A court later convicted two soldiers for abducting them from their home, murdering them and putting weapons on their bodies so they appeared to be rebels.

Martínez has said he had “no idea” if he had made the payments. But records indicate he signed off on at least seven other questionable payments.

“The promotion of Gen. Martínez Espinel conveys the troubling message to the troops that serious allegations of human rights violations are not an obstacle for career success,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said after the Senate voted.

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