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Former Colombian army chief Montoya charged in false positive scandal

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — An American-trained general who led the Colombian military when it killed civilians to increase the death toll in its war against rebels has been charged with war crimes for allegedly overseeing the murder or disappearance of 130 innocent people, judicial authorities announced on Wednesday.

General Mario Montoya, 74, was charged with crimes against civilians committed while he was commander of the Fourth Brigade, based in Medellín. Colombia’s peace court accuses Montoya of falsely labeling civilians killed by his soldiers as enemy combatants, to suggest that the armed forces were winning the decades-long war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Montoya, the highest-ranking military officer charged in the so-called false positive scandal, has denied ordering extrajudicial executions. His lawyer declined to comment on Wednesday.

Montoya demanded results from his soldiers — specifically combat kills — “at all costs,” the court said in its statement. court documents.

The indictment released Wednesday marks a new step in years-long efforts to hold Colombia’s armed forces to account in one of the darkest moments in the country’s modern history. According to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, approximately 6,402 Colombians – men, women and children, mostly unemployed and poor, some disabled – were killed between 2002 and 2008 by soldiers claiming to be victims of war. After their deaths, their bodies were often dressed in enemy clothing and posed with guns.

Accused of innocent deaths, a former colonel faces his shame

The courts and tribunals here have ruled that extrajudicial executions constitute a crime against humanity. The peace court, established in 2017 as part of the country’s peace deal aimed at ending 50 years of war with the FARC, indicted 62 military officials, including three generals, and civilians for their alleged role in murders. Fifty-five of them admitted their responsibility and pleaded guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Montoya led the Fourth Brigade from January 2002 to December 2003. During this time, he reportedly fostered a culture of competition between units to promote more killing. This led to soldiers killing innocent people and staging fights that never happened, the peace court said.

Montoya rewarded soldiers who obeyed his orders, the court heard, and threatened to expel from the army those who did not.

THE The indictment also names eight of Montoya’s subordinates as defendants. Many of them told the court of peace feeling intimidated by the general and pushed to kill civilians and present them as victims of war.

Montoya led the military at a critical time in the conflict, when the United States was pumping money into Colombia’s armed forces to help the nation fight drug trafficking and organized crime. Between 1999 and 2005, Colombia received $3.78 billion from Washington under Plan Colombia, a drug war effort launched under President Bill Clinton and expanded under President George W. Bush.

After Congress approved funding for the initiative, the Colombian military has begun to use the number of casualties as an indicator of success, according to the peace court.

By the time Montoya joined the Fourth Brigade, Plan Colombia had already brought about a radical change within the armed forces. Antioquia, the region he oversaw, was under constant attack by the FARC and other guerrilla groups. Kidnappings and murders were happening daily.

Álvaro Uribe, then president, elected on an electoral basis promise to impose an iron fist against guerrilla groups, appointed Montoya as army chief in 2006. Montoya has worked closely with the United States and has been credited with contribute to reversing the course of the conflict against the FARC.

Senior Colombian Military Officials Admit Crimes Against Humanity

Perhaps most famously, he was one of the main orchestrators of Operation Jaque, the 2008 mission. during which the Colombian army freed 15 hostages, including presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who had been detained by the FARC. A photograph of the general raising his fist next to Betancourt after his rescue was widely shared in Colombia as the country celebrated the victory.

A few months later, the false positive scandal broke, the United Nations sent a special rapporteur to the country, and Uribe was removed from his post. Montoya and other military officials from their duties. Uribe appointed Montoya ambassador to the Dominican Republic, where Montoya remained until 2011.

In 2021, prosecutors requested murder charges against Montoya. But a criminal court decided that the general should be charged before the Special Jurisdiction of Peace.

Montoya now has two options: If he cooperates with the court and accepts responsibility for his alleged crimes, he could face five to eight years of restrictive measures, such as house arrest. Otherwise, he risks being tried and, if found guilty, being sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

The victims of those killed in the false positive case have waited years for Montoya to be held accountable. But Wednesday’s indictment left some unsatisfied.

“This indictment concerns only one region, one battalion, a minimum period. This is a limited investigation that raises serious questions,” says German Romero, attorney representing victims in the false positives case.

Prosecutors pursue murder charges against former Colombian army chief

Romero criticized the peace court for not asking authorities to investigate other prominent leaders, especially Uribe, who served as president throughout that period. of the false positive scandal.

Uribe has repeatedly said that he had no role in ordering the extrajudicial executions of civilians when he was in power. He has denied all charges against his administration in connection with the case.

In May, family members of the 130 people killed in Antioquia, apparently at Montoya’s direction, spoke directly with the former general. One of them was Gloria López, the mother of 13-year-old Erika Castañeda, killed in 2002.

“You invited the media and gave a press conference attesting that they belonged” to the FARC, López told Montoya. “Scoundrel. They were lies. They were children.

“My daughter was a student, she wanted to become a dentist to give us a better future,” she said. “You condemned me to live without her.”


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