Colombian authorities are facing growing calls to investigate a botched army raid in which at least four civilians – including a 16-year-old boy, a pregnant woman, and an Indigenous leader – were killed.
The raid took place early on 28 March in a remote village in the conflict-racked southern province of Putumayo. It was intended to target dissident guerrillas from the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) who are now involved in the cocaine trade.
The mission left 11 dead, including the civilians, in circumstances that remain shrouded in mystery. Witnesses and local journalists have said that the victims’ bodies and the scene of the killings appear to have been tampered with, adding to the suspicion.
Colombia’s army – which has repeatedly been accused of killing civilians – has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, characterizing the raid as a legal operation to take out violent terrorists.
But human rights organizations question the official account.
“We have solid evidence suggesting that at least four of the people killed were civilians,” said Juan Pappier, an investigator with Human Rights Watch, which is working on the case.
“The ministry of defense’s explanation has serious inconsistencies and mistakes. A thorough, credible, and impartial investigation by civilian justice authorities is urgently needed.”
The pain was further piled on to a traumatized nation when Eduardo Zapateiro, the general in command of Colombia’s army, said on Monday that “it is not the first operation in which pregnant women or underage combatants fall”.
Condemnation of the callous remarks was swift.
“The lack of humanity of those that govern us is a Colombian disgrace,” tweeted Katherine Miranda, a councilwoman for Bogotá. “All deaths are equal, only some are more equal than others.”
Many Colombians were reminded of similar remarks made by the defense minister, Diego Molano, who in March last year described child soldiers killed in an airstrike as “machines of war”. On Tuesday, calls for his resignation again surfaced on social media, while lawmakers called for a motion to censure the minister.