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Outspoken Senator Flees Colombia

October 1, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ An outspoken senator who received numerous death threats said Thursday that she was fleeing Colombia.

Sen. Piedad Cordoba, who chairs the Senate’s human rights commission, did not detail the threats against her and said she had yet to decide in what country she would reside. She announced her decision at feminism conference in Spain.

The 44-year-old senator has been unabashed in her public criticism of all sides in Colombia’s 35-year-old civil conflict _ from leftist rebels to their right-wing paramilitary foes.

In a telephone conversation from the Spanish town of Baeza, Cordoba told The Associated Press she would return briefly to Colombia before moving indefinitely abroad with her four children.

``I am in grave danger,″ Cordoba said during a Senate debate two weeks ago in which she made public a list of people allegedly targeted for assassination by shadowy right-wing groups seeking to destabilize the country.

Like most high-profile politicians in this country, Cordoba drives everywhere in an armored car and is usually accompanied by as many as six government-assigned bodyguards.

Cordoba’s self-imposed exile follows the unsolved assassinations of two leading peace activists _ political satirist Jaime Garzon on Aug. 13 and former presidential peace envoy Jesus Bejarano on Sept. 16.

The attacks, many Colombians say, are an attempt to destabilize the country and torpedo President Andres Pastrana’s efforts to get peace talks with the guerrillas on track.

``The government is incapable of guaranteeing the lives of human rights defenders,″ said Sen. Rodrigo Rivera.

Since 1997, at least 16 human rights activists have been assassinated in Colombia and several dozen have, like Cordoba, been forced into exile.

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