Colombian Congressman Assassinated
Tuesday October 9, 2001 4:50 AM
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - Motorcycle gunmen killed a
lawmaker in the capital on Monday, and suspected paramilitary
attackers shot to death a union leader at a U.S.-owned coal
mine in northern Colombia, officials said.
News of the killings came only three days after a
government-rebel agreement raised hopes of an eventual
cease-fire in Colombia's 37-year conflict.
Congressman Luis Alfredo Colmenares, slain as he drove his
car along an avenue of upscale shops in north Bogota, was the
second member of congress killed in a week. Police have not
said who they believe killed Colmenares, a member of the
opposition Liberal Party from Arauca, an oil-rich but violent state
near the Venezuelan border.
The right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC,
has been moving into the state, long a bastion of leftist
guerrillas. Last Tuesday, another Arauca congressman, Octavio
Sarmiento, was shot and killed by suspected AUC gunmen near
Defense Minister Gustavo Bell blamed ``dark forces who are
silencing the voices of democracy.''
The slain labor leader, 39-year-old machine operator Gustavo
Soler, was president of the union representing workers at a coal
mine in northern Cesar state owned by Alabama-based,
Drummond, Ltd. The company issued a statement deploring the
Soler was shot two times by suspected paramilitary gunmen,
Cesar state police said. His body was found Sunday.
The congressman's shooting in Bogota continues a wave of
violence against lawmakers. Five others have been killed in the
past year. Four are hostages of leftist guerrillas.
``Life in this country is worthless,'' a fellow member of congress,
Jose Alfredo Escobar, said at the scene of the assassination.
According to Escobar, Colmenares - an expert on energy issues
- was traveling without bodyguards because he was on a leave of
absence from the congress, taking courses in the United
States. He was in Colombia on a brief visit, Escobar said.
The congressmen was found slumped in his car, which had
swerved to the side of the road after the attack.
Monday's shooting underscores rising tensions even as the
government and rebels claim to be making progress in peace
negotiations. On Saturday, Luis Alberto Pinzon, a physician
who served on a peace panel recommending action against the
paramilitaries, announced he was fleeing the country due to
AUC death threats.