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by Phil StewartBOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters)
Friday, Jun. 22, 2001 at 9:47 AM
[ and you'll be glad to know DYNCORP was the mercenary group subcontracted by the Pentagon ]
Authorities have subpoenaed three Americans to testify about the Colombian air force's bombing of a small town
in 1998, which killed 17 civilians and injured more than 30....
By Phil StewartBOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Authorities have subpoenaed three
Americans to testify about the Colombian air force's bombing of a small town
in 1998, which killed 17 civilians and injured more than 30 others, judicial
sources said. The Colombian air force pilots suspected of bombing the town
have told a military court investigating the incident that three privately
contracted U.S. pilots flying a surveillance aircraft for Florida-based
AirScan International Inc. passed on coordinates for the attack, the judicial
sources told Reuters Wednesday. Five children were among the 17 civilians
killed, and the number of people injured is believed to have been at least
30. Colombian authorities have been looking into the December 1998 incident
since last November. The air force originally blamed the country's largest
rebel force, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), for the
civilian deaths. It said the guerrillas had detonated a car bomb in the town
of Santo Domingo de Tame, near the border with Venezuela. But later
investigation showed that the killings resulted from U.S.-made explosives,
possibly cluster bombs, dropped from a Colombian air force helicopter. The
judicial sources told Reuters that the three American pilots were no longer
believed to be in Colombia. The next step would be for Colombian authorities
to contact the State Department for help in obtaining depositions from them,
the sources said. COMPANY MONITORED PIPELINE AirScan International said it
was responsible at the time for monitoring the Cano Limon oil pipeline in
northeastern Colombia and reported rebel activity to "the oil company."
U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum Inc. operates the Cano Limon oil field, and
state oil firm Ecopetrol runs the pipeline, which Marxist guerrillas fighting
in Colombia's 37-year-old war have regularly bombed for years. "If we saw
something that needed to be reported, we reported it through the oil company,
and what was reported from there was the oil company's business," a senior
AirScan official, who declined to be named, told Reuters in a telephone
interview. He did not say if he was referring to Occidental or Ecopetrol. He
said the pilots, who no longer work for AirScan, flew a four-seat Cessna 337
Skymaster aircraft, equipped with radar and video recording equipment.
AirScan ceased operations in Colombia in early 1999, transferring the
monitoring job to the country's air force. A U.S. Embassy source told Reuters
that U.S. citizens were contracted to pilot the plane but said they were not
in any way affiliated with the U.S. military. "We understand that there were
U.S. citizens that were contracted to pilot the plane for pipeline security.
At no time has the U.S. government provided any military or contract support
to petroleum companies in Colombia," the source said. GENERAL GAVE DIFFERENT
ACCOUNT Colombian air force Gen. Hector Fabio Velasco said earlier on
Wednesday that the Skymaster was the property of the Colombian Air Force and
had been piloted by Colombians. Occidental said that it had allowed AirScan
to use an on-site landing strip but AirScan would have passed on any
coordinates directly to the air force or Ecopetrol. "This was in the hands of
Ecopetrol and the air force. ... We had no contract relationship with AirScan
in December 1998," an Occidental spokesman told Reuters. Two years after the
bombing, in December 2000, the United States began pouring more than
billion into President Andres Pastrana's Plan Colombia anti-cocaine
offensive. Critics say Plan Colombia could drag the United States into a
Vietnam-style conflict. U.S. officials point out that the offensive does not
target guerrillas and that they have no personnel directly involved in the
fighting. But American civilians hired by DynCorp, a major Pentagon
contractor based in Reston, Virginia, were fired on by rebels earlier this
year while being rescued by a State Department helicopter after a failed
herbicide-spraying mission. And Americans were involved in the accidental
killing of a 35-year-old missionary and her 7-month-old daughter in April in
Peru when a missionary plane was shot down after a Peruvian air force fighter
acted on a tip from a CIA anti-drug surveillance plane. Such surveillance
flights in Peru and Colombia have since been suspended.
Forwarded as information only; no endorsement to be presumed.
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