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News > Colombia

New Evidence Links Colombian Army Chief to Civilian Killings

  • On December 10, 2018, he was appointed by President Ivan Duque as Commander of the Colombian National Army.

    On December 10, 2018, he was appointed by President Ivan Duque as Commander of the Colombian National Army. | Photo: Reuters

Published 26 May 2019

The evidence shows that the Colombian officer in 2005 authorized at least seven payments to supposed informants whose names and IDs didn’t match, turning out to be Colombian soldiers related to “false positive” operations. 

New documents have emerged linking the Colombian army's top commander, General Nicacio Martinez Espinel, to the alleged cover-up of civilian killings in “false positive” operations during the 2000s, according to exclusive information obtained by The Associated Press. 

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The evidence was provided by an anonymous source from Colombia’s prosecutor’s office and shows that the Colombian officer in 2005 authorized at least seven payments to be Colombian soldiers related to “false positive” operations. In one case, Espinel approved the cash reward to a Colombian soldier, Oscar Alfonso Murgas, who has since been sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in civilian murders who were predominantly poor Campesinos and Indigenous.

Between 1988 and 2014 the government gave prize money "incentives" to soldiers for the extrajudicial killings of suspected paramilitaries. In Many cases, the soldiers killed rural civilians then dressed them in paramilitary fatigues claiming they were guerilla fighters, creating a 'false positive' scenario. 

“A decade ago, soldiers across Colombia lured civilians to remote locations under false pretenses — such as with promises of work — killed them, placed weapons on their lifeless bodies, and then reported them as enemy combatants killed in action,” Americas director at Human Rights Watch said last February.

This is not the first time General Martinez Espinel has been associated with extrajudicial murders. During the 2000s, he was the second-in-command of the 10th Brigade in northeast Colombia, a time during which state prosecutors say there were 23 illegal killings, including those of an Indigenous adult male and 13-year-old girl. 

A national court later convicted two soldiers for abducting them from their home, murdering them and putting weapons on their bodies so they appeared to be rebels.


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At least 1,750 members of Colombia's army were involved in creating "false positives." According to Colombia's Office of the Attorney General, this phenomenon claimed the lives of at least 2,248 persons. Not a single top commander has been held accountable for the slayings.

And the impunity and continuous use of these practices are still seen until today. In 2018, the United Nations (U.N.) found 11 new cases of alleged “false positive” executions registered in Antioquia, Arauca, Huila, La Guajira, Magdalena, and Northern Santander. “National police would allegedly be responsible for six cases, and the army of five”, the UN affirms.

Opposition voices in Colombian have called on Martinez Espinel to resign, pointing to the several cases of suspicious killings and cover-ups by soldiers under his command. The country’s right-wing President Ivan Duque continues to stand by the commander he appointed to lead the national army last December.

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