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According to Colombia's Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, the victims of an apparent military slaughter were guerrillas who were murdered in a legitimate operation.
On Monday, a defense minister's statement, which aroused controversy, emerged in light of evidence pointing to the killing of at least four civilians by the National Army in Putumayo province in the country's south.
The United Nations human rights office said the civilian victims included a community leader, an indigenous governor, and at least another 16-year-old boy. Meanwhile, Colombia's defense minister announced on Monday that nine "criminals: had been killed in Puerto Leguizamo, a jungle municipality on the border with Ecuador.
However, President Iván Duque then upped the death toll, stating that 11 members of dissident groups of the former FARC guerrillas were killed. "Four more criminals were detained in Puerto Leguizamo," Duque added.
On Wednesday, General Edgar Alberto Rodriguez of the National Army's Southeastern Joint Command N3 said that the victims belonged to the "Segunda Marquetalia" guerrilla group. The Ombudsman's Office denied confirming that the people killed in Puerto Leguizamo were guerrillas and asked for a quick clarification.
According to the community, the army committed a massacre against civilians, but minister of Defense Diego Molano tweeted that the perfectly legitimate operation was carried out against "narco-cocagrowers" and "criminals",����
A regional community organization said Tuesday that seven villagers who were misrepresented as guerrillas had been identified. The community said the military slaughtered the villagers attending a bazaar in El Remanso village.
Locals said civilian casualties included the community's elected leader, his wife, an indigenous governor, and a 16-year-old boy. At least three locals were reportedly injured in the massacre and others have been missing since the fake offensive.
The A la Orilla Del Río regional think tank corroborated the massacre and published images of the community center where the killings took place. Similarly, human rights organizations and independent media released accounts from multiple locals accusing the National Army of murdering the villagers. The fact-finding news website Cuestion Publica also published the death certificates of four of the victims.
The opposition leader, Gustavo Petro, a presidential candidate, said Duque's government was guilty of a war crime. He said they were not 11 FARC members; they were civilians and disarmed peasants and indigenous people, including children.
The defense minister doubled down on his misleading assertions given Petro's accusation. He said the victims were drug traffickers, not innocent indigenous people and also published a video of people talking and weapons seized in military operations in the interest of backing his allegations. However, news reporters told the minister that talking was legal and that there was no evidence that the weapons were confiscated at the massacre site.
The war crimes tribunal is investigating Diego Molano for his suspected implication in the executions of 22 civilians in 2006 and 2007. The military officer is on probation due to a peace process with the former FARC guerrillas. The general could be sent to prison if the court finds legal merit to presume that the general continued to violate human rights after the 2016 peace agreement.