BOGOTÁ, Colombia — A U.S.-trained normal who headed Colombia’s military when it killed civilians to extend physique counts in its conflict towards rebels has been charged with conflict crimes for allegedly overseeing the killings or disappearance of 130 harmless folks, judicial authorities introduced Wednesday.

Gen. Mario Montoya, 74, was indicted on a cost of crimes towards civilians dedicated whereas he was the commander of the Fourth Brigade, primarily based in Medellín. Colombia’s peace tribunal accuses Montoya of falsely labeling civilians killed by his troopers as enemy fighters to recommend that the armed forces had been profitable the decades-long conflict towards the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC.

Montoya, the highest-ranking army officer to be accused in what’s often called the false positives scandal, has denied ordering extrajudicial killings. His lawyer declined to remark Wednesday.

Montoya demanded outcomes from his troopers — particularly fight killings — “in any respect prices,” the tribunal stated in courtroom paperwork.

The indictment launched Wednesday is a brand new step within the years-long effort to carry Colombia’s armed forces accountable in one of many darkest moments within the nation’s fashionable historical past. An estimated 6,402 Colombians — males, girls and youngsters, a lot of them unemployed and poor, a few of them disabled — had been killed from 2002 to 2008 by troopers who claimed they had been conflict casualties, in keeping with the Particular Jurisdiction for Peace. After their deaths, their our bodies had been usually wearing enemy gear and posed with weapons.

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Courts and tribunals right here have dominated that the extrajudicial killings had been against the law towards humanity. The peace tribunal, fashioned in 2017 as a part of the nation’s peace deal to finish 50 years of conflict with the FARC, has charged 62 army officers, together with three generals, and civilians over their alleged roles within the killings. Fifty-five of them have accepted duty and pleaded responsible in trade for diminished punishments.

Montoya led the Fourth Brigade from January 2002 to December 2003. Throughout that point, he allegedly fostered a tradition of competitors amongst items to advertise extra killing. That led troopers to kill harmless folks and stage fight that by no means occurred, the peace tribunal stated.

Montoya rewarded troopers who complied along with his orders, the tribunal stated, and threatened to kick those that didn’t out of the military.

The indictment additionally names eight of Montoya’s subordinates as defendants. A lot of them instructed the peace tribunal of feeling intimidated by the final and pressured to kill civilians and current them as conflict casualties.

Montoya led the military at a important time within the battle, when america was pouring cash into the Colombian armed forces to assist the nation struggle narcotrafficking and arranged crime. Between 1999 and 2005, Colombia acquired $3.78 billion from Washington by Plan Colombia, a war-on-drugs effort initiated underneath President Invoice Clinton and expanded underneath President George W. Bush.

After Congress authorized funding for the initiative, the Colombian military started to make use of the casualty numbers as an indicator of success, the peace tribunal says.

By the point Montoya joined the Fourth Brigade, Plan Colombia had already led to a drastic shift inside the armed forces. Antioquia, the area he oversaw, was underneath fixed assault by the FARC and different guerrilla teams. Kidnappings and killings occurred every day.

Then-President Álvaro Uribe, elected on a promise to impose an iron fist towards guerrilla teams, named Montoya as military chief in 2006. Montoya labored intently with america and was credited with serving to flip the tide of the battle towards the FARC.

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Maybe most famously, he was one of many chief orchestrators of Operation Jaque, the 2008 mission by which the Colombian military liberated 15 hostages, together with presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who had been held by the FARC. {A photograph} of the final elevating a fist beside Betancourt after her rescue was broadly circulated in Colombia because the nation celebrated the victory.

Months later, the false positives scandal got here to mild, the United Nations despatched a particular rapporteur to the nation and Uribe eliminated Montoya and different army officers from their roles. Uribe named Montoya ambassador to the Dominican Republic, the place Montoya remained till 2011.

Prosecutors in 2021 requested homicide costs towards Montoya. However a prison courtroom dominated that the final would must be charged within the Particular Peace Jurisdiction.

Montoya now has two choices: If he cooperates with the courtroom and accepts duty for his alleged crimes, he may very well be topic to 5 to eight years of restrictive measures, comparable to home arrest. In any other case he can go to trial and, if convicted, doubtlessly be sentenced to as much as 20 years in jail.

Victims of these killed within the false positives case have waited years to see Montoya held accountable. However Wednesday’s indictment left some unhappy.

“This indictment is just about one area, one battalion, a minimal interval. It’s a restricted investigation that raises critical questions,” says German Romero, a lawyer representing victims within the false positives case.

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Romero criticized the peace courtroom for not asking authorities to research different outstanding leaders, particularly Uribe, who was president all through the interval of the false positives scandal.

Uribe has stated repeatedly that he didn’t play a job in ordering the extrajudicial killings of civilians whereas in workplace. He has denied each accusation towards his administration in connection to the case.

In Could, the relations of the 130 folks killed in Antioquia, allegedly underneath Montoya’s management, spoke on to the previous normal. Considered one of them was Gloria López, the mom of 13-year-old Erika Castañeda, who was killed in 2002.

“You invited the media and gave a information convention testifying that they had been from” the FARC, López instructed Montoya. “Scoundrel. They had been lies. They had been youngsters.”

“My daughter was a scholar, she wished to be a dentist to offer us a greater future,” she stated. “You condemned me to stay with out her.”

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