A prosecutor has ordered the arrest of five soldiers for allegedly killing two merchants in northern Colombia and reporting that the deaths occurred in combat, judicial officials in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla said.
The prosecutor’s move on Wednesday reversed a ruling in favor of the soldiers that had been made by a military court.
The Barranquilla unit of the Attorney General’s Office said the five soldiers originally appeared before a military court in the northern city of Santa Marta, the capital of Magdalena province, but the panel refused to prosecute them in January 2006.
The suspects are a sergeant and four enlisted men from a battalion based in Magdalena, where they reported that two Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas had been killed on July 28, 2001.
The soldiers said they killed the two men as they were “planting an explosive charge on a railway line owned by (mining company) Drummond.”
“The autopsies showed that the shots were not fired from a long distance, as the now subjects (of the arrest warrant) said, but were fired at point-blank range,” the AG’s office said.
Investigators found that the soldiers gave contradictory statements and determined that “the victims were merchants and owners of an investment company that provided loans,” the AG’s office said.
Extrajudicial executions of civilians by soldiers or police, who then report the victims as rebels killed in combat, are known in Colombia as “false positives.”
The phenomenon of extrajudicial executions came to light about three months ago with the discovery of mass graves at a cemetery in northeastern Colombia that held the remains of 20 people who had been reported by the military as “killed in combat.”
The remains were those of young people from Soacha who disappeared after receiving job offers. The case led to the uncovering of many similar incidents in other parts of the country.