FARC rebels blame Colombia’s govt for captives’ deaths, says it planned to release them
Publisher: AP, The Associated Press
Story date: 29/11/2011
Language: English

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia's main leftist rebel group is blaming President Juan Manuel Santos' government for the weekend deaths of four security force members who authorities say were cruelly executed when soldiers happened upon the insurgents holding them.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, claims in a statement published online Tuesday that the four were killed during an army rescue mission aimed at preventing the rebels from releasing the captives unilaterally — something the group has done in the past as a goodwill gesture. All of the hostages had been held captive for at least 12 years.

"We profoundly regret the tragic ending of the demented rescue attempt ordered by the Colombian government," the FARC's ruling seven-man secretariat said in the statement dated Monday and posted on a pro-rebel website.

The insurgents did not refer to the FARC's execution Saturday of the three police officers and one soldier. Colombia's chief coroner said Tuesday that three of the men were shot in the back of the head from a distance of less than 5 feet (1.5 meters) and the fourth was also shot from behind.

A fifth captive, police Sgt. Luis Alberto Erazo, 48, saved himself Saturday by fleeing into the jungle.

The FARC said it was planning to unilaterally release the men and had informed a go-between, former Sen. Piedad Cordoba, of its intent.

In a letter that Cordoba said she received the day before the men were killed, the FARC said it had planned to free six captives but did not name them or say when it planned to release them.

The rebels said the decision was made by their commander, Alfonso Cano, and that his Nov. 4 combat death would not prevent it from being carried out.

They claim in the communique that President Santos and his military high command "made the decision to frustrate this humanitarian gesture and its possible effects."

On the day of the killings, Santos said he expected the FARC to blame his government for the four deaths. Human Rights Watch on Monday called the officers' executions a war crime.

Government officials say they had intelligence in mid-October that rebels holding hostages might be in the area where Saturday's killings occurred. They said the troops who arrived at the rebel camp where the captives were held were on a reconnaissance mission, not attempting a rescue.

It is standing FARC policy to kill captives rather than allow them to be rescued, former rebel hostages say.

The FARC, believed to number about 9,000 fighters, took up arms in 1964, and is believed to fund itself largely through drug trafficking. Most of its fighters are young peasants from regions with few economic opportunities in a country where a small minority controls most wealth and land.

The rebels still hold more than a dozen security-force members.
 

Texas schools dealing with troubled drug-war refugees
Publisher: The Globe and Mail
Author: JUAN CARLOS LLORCA
Story date: 29/11/2011
Language: English

EL PASO, TEX. – The classroom falls silent as the teacher explains that victims of violence go through specific psychological stages in the aftermath of an attack. Most of these students, though, don't need a lecture to understand the lesson. It's part of their everyday lives.

Many of the teens came to the United States seeking refuge from Mexico's drug war, which made violence a constant companion since childhood.

"I've been through all three stages: impact, recoil, reorganization of my life," 17-year-old Alan Garcia told the class before breaking down in tears. "My mom goes in and out of recoil stage."

As the war enters its sixth year, it's bringing a new problem to Texas schools: thousands of students suffering from emotional troubles not unlike those endured by soldiers returning from battle. In response, some districts have started offering the type of classes and counselling more common to the military.

"What you see happening in Iraq or Afghanistan is the same that's happening here in the border. This is not a war like those, but still you have people fleeing their country," said Clara Contreras, co-ordinator of the Safe and Drug-Free School and Communities program at the Texas Education Agency in Edinburg, Tex.

Many of the students were mugged or witnessed a shootout. Others have had family members kidnapped, or they have been extorted by gangs that run rampant in Juarez, a city of 1.3 million directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso.

As Mr. Garcia speaks, the class nods. Nearly all of the 17 kids with ties to Juarez have experienced the same anguish.

Since the Mexican government launched an offensive on drug cartels in December, 2006, more than 35,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence.Over that time, teachers and counsellors on the Texas border have seen scores of traumatized children and teens.

The emotional difficulties affect them "in many areas of academic performance," said Alma Leal, professor of counselling at the University of Texas and head of counselling and guidance for the Brownsville Independent School District. They suffer from poor discipline, lack any sense of security and fear losing loved ones.

Mabel Avalos and other El Paso-area counsellors have used skills they originally learned to help children of military personnel from nearby Fort Bliss.

Children fleeing from the cross-border violence and those whose parents have been in combat share issues like separation or loss of a parent, she said. But unlike military children, those coming from Mexico have sometimes been exposed to violence or been victims themselves.

In the long term, if the children do not get help, victims can turn into victimizers.

"If you can't concentrate, and you can't do well in school, you can't find mastery in academics, so they find mastery using their strength" upon others, said Steven Marans, director of the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence at the Yale Child Study Center.
 

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