Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Land activist killed by gunmen in Colombia

May 19, 2010

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP)– A leader of families displaced by Colombia's violence was shot dead in what human rights groups said Wednesday is the latest attack on activists seeking the return of land stolen by far-right paramilitary groups.

Rogelio Martinez, 51, was riding on a mototaxi near his residence in San Onofre, Sucre province when gunmen intercepted the vehicle and shot him at least three times Tuesday, police Col. Hugo Javier Agudelo said.

No arrests had been made and police didn't offer a motive. Human rights groups said Martinez had been receiving death threats since December 2008.

Martinez lived with 52 displaced families locked in a dispute with a paramilitary group over a 556-hectare (1,374-acre) farm called "La Alemania," according to a press releases from the Interchurch Commission for Justice and Peace and the human rights group CODHES.

Christian Salazar, representative for the Colombia office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned Martinez's killing and said activists for the displaced seeking return of their lands are one of the most threatened sectors of society.

"This killing didn't just happen, it's part of a context," Salazar said. "We've been able to confirm an increase in threats and this is one of the most vulnerable groups."

Martinez's slaying raised to 34 the number of displaced leaders killed since 2002, according to an emailed statement from CODHES.

Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries first emerged in the 1980s, financed by ranchers to counter extortion and kidnappings by leftist rebel groups. But they later became mafias involved in drug trafficking and extortion, and stole thousands of square miles from mainly peasant farmers at gunpoint, swelling Colombia's internal refugee crisis.

President Alvaro Uribe negotiated a peace pact with the paramilitaries in 2003. But human rights groups say thousands of militia fighters have since remobilized, reconstituing themselves into criminal gangs.

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