A retired Colombian army general was sentenced to 25 years in prison Friday after a judge considered it proven the top official had been complicit in the 1997 homicide by paramilitary forces of a community leader in the northwest of Colombia.
General Rito Alejo Del Rio was commander of the Colombian army’s 17th Brigade and in charge of the northwestern Uraba region when paramilitary forces of the AUC‘s Elmer Cardenas Block carried out an operation in Riosucio, a municipality in the region, where they beheaded and dismembered a village leader.
The judge ruled that Del Rio had allowed the paramilitaries to enter the region after the 17th Brigade retook the area that was considered a hotbed of guerrilla activity. According to the prosecutor, “Operation Genesis” was a joint miltary-paramilitary operation.
“There was a macabre alliance between the AUC and the army against the guerrillas, but disregarding the civilian population. It is incomprehensible how, being in the same area, the army did not combat the paramilitaries. But why to combat those who are supporting us and with whom we have a deal,” the prosecutor said during the trial.
Del Rio, who has been accused of being close friends with AUC founder Carlos Castaño, had his visa to the United States revoked in 1999 over his then-alleged ties to the paramilitary organization. The official however was absolved of charges by former Prosecutor General Luis Camilo Osorio, himself accused of ties to the AUC.
The prosecution did not have enough evidence previously to prove that military actively took part in the murder but had requested the maximum sentence for Del Rio as accomplice.