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Colombia begins exhuming ‘false positives’ scandal victims

COLOMBIAN investigators are exhuming bodies at a cemetery where at least 50 victims of a notorious scandal involving the military are believed to be buried, officials said on Saturday.

Forensic scientists have recovered the remains of seven men believed to have been killed by troops and buried at the Las Mercedes de Dabeiba Catholic Cemetery in Antioquia, the country’s Special Peace Tribunal announced.

The mass exhumations are the first to be conducted by the tribunal, which was created by the historic peace accord that ended over 50 years of conflict between communist guerillas, the state and paramilitary groups.

Colombia’s military has been blamed for as many as 5,000 extrajudicial killings at the height of the country’s conflict in the mid-2000s.

Troops were induced to kill civilians and dress them up as guerillas in exchange for extra pay, vacations and other perks. Such actions became known as the “false positives” scandal.

Though lower-ranking soldiers have been jailed in recent years, no top commander has been held accountable and many families are still fighting for justice.

Human Rights Watch has criticised President Ivan Duque for appointing General Nicacio Martinez Espinel as head of the army; prosecutors have opened investigations into 23 illegal killings by the 10th Brigade, of which he was second-in-command during the conflict.

Gen Martinez Espinel, then a colonel, certified payments to an informant for “excellent results” in a purported combat operation during which an indigenous civilian and 13-year-old girl were killed, according to the rights group.

Soldiers believed to be involved in the crimes went with investigators to the cemetery and put green flags into the ground where victims, registered as “combat deaths,” were buried.

They described kidnapping victims, shooting them dead, dressing them in black clothes and putting gunpowder on their hands.

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