Colombia’s Defense Minister Diego Molano claims that victims of an alleged military massacre were guerrillas killed in a “legitimate operation.”
The defense minister made the controversial claim in response to evidence indicating that the National Army massacred at least four civilians in the southern Putumayo province on Monday.
Among the civilian victims would be a community leader, an indigenous governor and at least one 16-year-old boy, according to the United Nations human rights office.
Damos seguimiento a hechos presentados en Alto Remanso, Puerto Leguízamo #Putumayo, donde habrían perdido la vida civiles, líderes comunales e indígenas. Llamamos a autoridades a q se investigue y esclarezca lo ocurrido, garantizando derechos a debido proceso y acceso a justicia.
— ONU Derechos Humanos Colombia (@ONUHumanRights) March 31, 2022
The “military offensive”
Defense Minister Diego Molano announced on Monday that “nine criminals” had been killed in Puerto Leguizamo, a jungle municipality on the Ecuadorean border.
#ATENCIÓN Gracias a operaciones ofensivas de la Fuerza Pública, que continúan en desarrollo, contra disidencias de las Farc, neutralizamos a 9 criminales y capturamos a 4 más en Puerto Leguízamo, Putumayo. #ConTodasNuestrasFuerzas protegemos a Colombia de estos #SímbolosDelMal.
— Diego Molano Aponte (@Diego_Molano) March 28, 2022
President Ivan Duque later raised the number of deaths, claiming that “11 members of dissident groups of the [now-defunct guerrilla group] FARC were neutralized.”
“Four more criminals were arrested in Puerto Leguizamo,” the president added.
Continúa la ofensiva #SinTregua contra estructuras narcoterroristas en todas las regiones del país. En operaciones de nuestra Fuerza Pública, se logró la neutralización de 11 integrantes de disidencias de las Farc y la captura de 4 criminales más en Puerto Leguízamo (Putumayo).
— Iván Duque 🇨🇴 (@IvanDuque) March 28, 2022
General Edgar Alberto Rodriguez of the National Army’s N3 Southeastern Joint Command specified on Wednesday that the victims belonged to the “Segunda Marquetalia” guerrilla group
En desarrollo de operaciones militares conjuntas entres las @FuerzasMilCol, a través del Comando Contra el Narcotráfico y Amenazas Transnacionales en el sur del país, en las últimas horas, se produjo la neutralización de 15 presuntos miembros del GAO-r residual estructura 48. pic.twitter.com/4odhQJ4W6D
— Comando Conjunto N3 Suroriente (@CCON3_FFMM) March 30, 2022
Human rights organizations provides evidence of massacre
A regional community organization said Tuesday that they had been able to identify seven locals who were falsely presented as guerrillas.
According to the community, the military massacred locals who were attending a bazar in the hamlet of El Remanso.
Among the civilian victims were the community’s elected leader, his wife, an indigenous governor and a 16-year-old boy.
At least three locals would have been injured in the massacre and others have been missing since the fake offensive, locals said.
Regional think tank A la Orilla Del Rio confirmed the massacre and published images of the community center where the massacre took place.
To sustain their claims, human rights organizations and independent media published the accounts of multiple locals who accused the National Army of assassinating the locals.
Investigative news website Cuestion Publica additionally published the death certificates of four of the victims.
2. Identidades de 4 asesinados el 28M en zona rural de Puerto Leguizamo confirmadas por @cuestion_p son: Brayan Pama de 16 años, Pablo Panduro Coquinche, Oscar Oliva Yela, Divier Hernández Rojas. pic.twitter.com/dInfefhzn5
— Cuestión Pública (@cuestion_p) March 31, 2022
The Ombudsman’s office refused to confirm that the people killed in Puerto Leguizamo were guerrillas and requested “a swift clarification.”
Defensoría solicita pronto esclarecimiento de la muerte de 11 personas en la vereda El Remanso, Puerto Leguízamo, #Putumayo. Hemos dispuesto toda nuestra capacidad institucional para acompañar a la comunidad, particularmente a familiares de las víctimas. https://t.co/hnnbusTg2G pic.twitter.com/RyagKoVwLh
— Defensoría del Pueblo (@DefensoriaCol) March 30, 2022
Molano’s latest Big Lie?
Opposition leader Gustavo Petro, who is running for president, said that the Duque administration was guilty of a “war crime.”
They weren’t 11 FARC members, they were civilian and unarmed farmers and indigenous people, including children.
Senator Gustavo Petro
Petro’s accusation infuriated Molano, who doubled down on his false claims.
According to the defense minister, the victims weren’t “innocent indigenous, but narco-cocaleros.”
The military wasn’t an attack on “a bazar, but against criminals who attacked soldiers,” Molano falsely claimed.
To sustain his claims, Molano published a video of people talking and seized weapons seized in military operations.
A los “inocentes civiles” se les incautó: arsenal de guerra; granadas, fusiles, proveedores, cartuchos, entre otros.
— Diego Molano Aponte (@Diego_Molano) March 30, 2022
Journalists reminded the minister that talking is legal and that there was no indication the weapons were seized at the location of the massacre.
Molano has gotten in trouble previously for justifying crimes against humanity.
The general who announced the fake military operation is being investigated by the war crimes tribunal for his alleged involvement in the executions of 22 civilians in 2006 and 2007.
The military official is on parole as a consequence of a peace process with the now-defunct guerrilla group FARC.
The war crimes tribunal may send the general to prison if they find legal merit to assume that the general continued to commit human rights violations after the 2016 peace deal.