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British military personnel are secretly in Colombia providing counterinsurgency training to Colombian military units that could be working with paramilitary death squads.
According to information recently obtained in the United Kingdom the British Ministry of Defence is secretly aiding Colombian army counterinsurgency units that may be involved in severe abuses of human rights including the assassinations of trade unionists and human rights defenders.
According to the Ministry of Defence, military advisors have made at least ten trips to Colombia since 2000 to advise the Colombian army on “counter-terrorism” tactics, though the Ministry refuses to release any further information for reasons of “national security”.
A recent report in the Guardian newspaper added that recent British aid to the Colombian military has included intelligence equipment, training for new counter-guerrilla mountain units of the Colombian army, military hardware and assistance setting up a military intelligence centre. The report also alleges that Britain is now become Colombia’s second-largest military aid donor after the United States.
In response to the new revelations various British organisations grouped around the Justice for Colombia campaign have denounced the policy and called for all military aid to Colombia to be frozen. Amnesty International have also lent support to the call for a halt in such aid.
According to Liam Craig-Best of Justice for Colombia “It’s not surprising that the UK government has maintained a veil of secrecy around its military assistance because the Colombian military is implicated, through its collusion with the paramilitaries, with the murder of hundreds of members of civil society. If the government is seriously concerned about fighting terrorism, let’s start where we can really make a difference by ensuring the British taxpayer is not directly contributing to the terror faced by the trade union movement and human rights defenders in Colombia.”
Frances O’Grady, Deputy General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress representing some 7 million workers, added, “We are calling upon the Government to listen to the working people of Colombia and their trade unions and to end military aid to the Uribe regime, which is the most anti-democratic, anti-worker, neoliberal government in Latin America. Instead the UK should be concentrating on providing assistance for sustainable social development and to promote dialogue instead of conflict."
Former British foreign office minister Tony Lloyd, who is supporting the campaign to end military aid told a recent Justice for Colombia protest that "the present government [in Bogotá] is the most rightwing we have known for years, and the Colombian armed forces cannot be trusted. They have worked hand in glove with the paramilitaries for years. We need to send a clear message that we need to keep the Colombian regime at arm's length."
Furthermore Nick Dearden of campaigning charity War on Want pointed out that “If the UK government refuses to divulge details of its security and military assistance to Colombia what guarantees do we have that it will not fall into the hands of those units of the Colombian army that share equipment, intelligence and other resources with paramilitary death squads that are responsible for 95% of the murders of trade unionists?”
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