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Colombian General Forced Out

August 31, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ The government relieved an army general and two police officials of their commands Monday over a massacre this month of villagers by right-wing paramilitary death squads.

U.N. officials had blamed the government for failing to prevent the killings of at least 36 people just over a week ago in La Gabarra and Tibu, two remote towns near the northeastern border with Venezuela.

Also Monday, Colombia increased security in the capital, Bogota, ahead of a work stoppage by up to 350,000 public sector employees set to begin Tuesday.

Unions have said the open-ended work stoppage will be peaceful. The strike, which could cost up to $130 million a day, is in protest against the government’s fiscal austerity measures and privatization plans.

Prior to the killings, rightist militias openly warned they would attack suspected leftist sympathizers in the oil-producing and coca-growing area _ long a leftist rebel stronghold.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement it had forced Brig. Gen. Alberto Bravo Silva, commander of the army’s Fifth Brigade based in Norte de Santander state, to step down pending investigation into the killings.

Also relieved of their commands were the regional police commander, Col. Roque Julio Sanchez, and Aimer Munoz, regional director of the state security agency, DAS.

The ministry did not explain why the three were relieved.

Colombia’s armed forces have for years been accused of supporting the landowner-backed militias.

But recently the Colombian government, under pressure from the United States and leftist rebels with whom it is negotiating, has taken some action to show it won’t tolerate army complicity with the militias.

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