Army Finds Mass Graves With As Many As 400 Dead Rebels
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ The army has discovered mass graves holding the bodies of hundreds of leftist rebels apparently shot by their comrades in a gruesome system of underground justice, officials said Friday.
The 30 or so graves were discovered in a jungle region of southern Colombia where the country’s biggest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had its headquarters.
The army bombed and occupied the area last December.
A regional army commander, Gen. Edgar Pallares, said security forces had dug up at least 66 corpses as of Thursday. He said the total number of dead reached around 400.
″This was an execution camp for FARC members who for whatever reason violated the rules of the rebellion,″ Pallares told reporters.
Authorities did not rule out the possibility that some bodies were those of rebels killed in combat, or even fallen soldiers.
However, most of the bodies had a single bullet hole in the cranium, leading officials to believe they had been executed, said army spokesman Capt. Jose Cortes.
The military’s press chief, Col. Victor Trujillo, said the FARC had established other cemeteries for fallen rebels near the headquarters, known as ″Casa Verde.″
″If a rebel died in combat, they would not have buried him in an unmarked grave hidden deep in the jungle,″ Trujillo told The Associated Press.
Initial forensic reports indicated the victims had been dead anywhere from six months to three years.
Major Bogota newspapers carried macabre reports of rebels being ordered killed for minor disciplinary infractions such as stealing food or sleeping during guard duty.
FARC commanders have not yet responded to the reports. Journalists have had to rely on information supplied by the army, which has been at war with the FARC for 30 years.
In 1985 authorities found 261 bodies in southern Colombia, apparently those of dissident FARC members killed in an internal purge. Rebel sources had said they were army infiltrators and informants.
Trujillo said the army was preparing a court case against FARC commander Manuel Marulanda for the Casa Verde killings.
The army’s December capture of Casa Verde gave rise to the rebels’ most ambitious offensive ever.
Since January, nearly 600 soldiers, policemen, rebels and civilians have died in attacks by the FARC and another rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN.
Six FARC insurgents were killed in fighting with the army Thursday in the northwestern banana growing region of Uraba, Trujillo said.
″This was the same group of rebels who had been blowing up electrical towers in Uraba, leaving the entire region without energy,″ he said.
The government estimates that rebel sabotage has cost the Colombian economy some $500 million so far this year.