The Peruvian government, aware that it is losing the publicity war with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), is now trying to restrict the foreign press in their coverage of the ongoing hostage crisis at the Japanese embassy.
In a recent meeting with the Foreign Press Association (FPA) the government's official negotiator with the MRTA, Domingo Palermo, accused foreign journalists of 'advising' the MRTA, a punishable offence in Peru. The FPA say they fear that these comments may be a warning that the activities of the international press could soon be severely limited.
Shortly after the meeting Miguel Real, a correspondent with London-based Worldwide Television News, left Peru claiming that the government had been putting pressure on him and had threatened him with arrest.
Real had broadcast an interview in which the MRTA accused the government of digging tunnels towards the Japanese ambassador's residency. Shortly afterwards, talks between the MRTA and the government faltered. Real denied the government's accusation that he is aiding the MRTA's cause, saying that 'the only contact I've had with them was as a journalist.'
Angry at what they see as co-operation between the media and the rebels, the government has also attacked the foreign press for being too sympathetic to the MRTA. It is particularly annoyed at the way in which the hostage takers are being referred to as 'rebels' and not 'terrorists'.
Previous attempts have been made by the government to isolate the MRTA and prevent coverage of their views. In January, two Japanese journalists from TV Asahi managed to break into the residency and conduct an interview with the MRTA's leader, Néstor Cerpa. They were later arrested and held for several days by Peruvian authorities.
TV Asahi itself has recently taken disciplinary action, with several members of staff receiving suspension and pay cuts over their role in the affair. The interview with Cerpa was never broadcast.
Gerardo Bedoya Borrero, a leader writer for the Cali paper El País, was murdered on 20 March, as he left an apartment building in the centre of the city. He was shot six times by an unidentified gunman who then sped off on a motorcycle. Bedoya, who always walked unarmed because 'he had no enemies that he knew of and nothing to fear', died instantly.
A former congressman and Colombian representative to the European Union, Bedoya took up his post at El País five years ago. He had also worked as managing editor of the Bogotá-based opposition daily El Nuevo Siglo. From the editorial pages of El País Bedoya campaigned vociferously against the corrosive influence of the drugs trade on virtually all walks of life in Colombia.
'I prefer gringo intervention in our internal affairs to that of the drug cartels,' he wrote in one of his last columns, headlined 'Even if they call me pro-Yankee'. He claimed that US pressure had led to the tightening of sentences and the spraying of poppy and coca crops, and had raised public awareness of the damage that drug trafficking had caused to Colombian politics and society.
Bedoya had also used his articles to denounce President Ernesto Samper's scandal-plagued government. In a brief letter to the publisher of El País, however, Samper referred to their days together at university and professed his deep regret at Bedoya's death. He should be remembered for his 'sharp, polemical and brilliant temperament', Samper said, and the 'convincing manner throughout his life with which he defended his ideas and principles'.
Police said they had no immediate clues as to who was responsible for the killing and offered a reward of US$50,000 for information leading to the assassin's arrest. However, Gen Harold Bedoya, the country's top general and a cousin of the victim, said he 'had no doubt' who was behind his murder. 'It's one more crime of the many committed by narco-terrorism in Colombia, that's the reality,' he told reporters.
Bedoya's death has aroused solidarity among many different sectors of Colombian society and unified their repudiation of the growing violence in their country. Writing to El País, Fabio Valencia Cossio, president of the Directorio Nacional Conservador, decried such attacks on the freedom of expression as 'the most worrying aspect of the country's moral crisis'.
More than 100 journalists have been killed in Colombia in the last 20 years, according to the Inter American Press Association. The killing of Bedoya is the second murder of a journalist in Colombia in the last week alone. The body of Freddy Elles, a freelance photographer, was found on 18 March in the port city of Cartagena. He had been handcuffed, stabbed in the neck and shot in the head. According to eye-witness accounts, three individuals accosted Elles and took him away in a car on the afternoon of 17 March.
His assassins and the motives for his killing are still unknown but the nature of the crime suggests that Elles could have been slain in reprisal for something he had photographed. Working exclusively for the daily El Espectador, he took several prominent photographs of police brutality during demonstrations by municipal workers in 1995. He also reported on the illegal construction of residences in the Corales del Rosario natural park.
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The coordinator of the Permanent Committee for Human Rights in the northwestern department of Antioquia, Jesus Valle, said the confrontation in the region between paramilitary groups, guerrillas and the army had given rise to ''a disturbing situation in which the civilian population is the victim.''
Spokespersons for a group of 2,600 peasant farmers who reached the Antioquia municipality of Mutata over the weekend said the displacements began a month ago in the wake of bombing by the army, which was fighting the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), one of the last guerrilla groups active in Latin America.
The displaced people also said they had been harassed by paramilitary groups since December.
The 2,600 people fled the municipality of Riosucio, bordering Antioquia, part of Uraba Antioqueio, a region disputed by guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and drug traffickers.
More than 4,000 peasant farmers have been displaced, meanwhile, to municipalities along the northern coast of Colombia, another focalpoint of rebel-paramilitary clashes.
During the tough trek to safer territory, two women lost their babies on giving birth.
Valle blamed ''total neglect'' by the State for the precarious situation of the displaced.
But according to the commandant of the army division operating in the department of Choco, General Rito del Rio, the peasant farmers had been pressured by the FARC to leave their homes so the army could be blamed for the exodus.
Del Rio maintained that the region ''has been dominated by the FARC, which is now fighting the army.''
The president of the National Association of Peasant Users, Rito Gomez, urged the government to take immediate action. The case of the 7,000 displaced people ''is a reflection of what is happening in the Colombian countryside, which is being sapped by the violence.''
Gomez said the peasant farmers have been caught in the crossfire, with the guerrillas accusing them of collaborating with the paramilitary groups, who in their turn accuse them of supporting the rebels.
According to the non-governmental Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), 920,000 people have been displaced by violence in Colombia since 1985.
A recent World Bank report ranks Colombia as one of the most violent countries in the world, with 89.5 murders per 100,000 people.
Jorge Rojas, the coordinator of CODHES, called the displacement of the population by violence ''a grave human rights problem with socio-demographic implications, which particularly affects women and children,'' mainly from rural areas.
A CODHES survey of the displaced persons indicates that 53 percent are females, and 54 percent are minors under 18. Thirty- three percent blamed their plight on paramilitary groups, 28 percent the guerrillas, and 14 percent the armed forces. Threats and murders were signalled as the chief causes of displacement by 64 and 14 percent, respectively, while bombings by the army, torture, fear and harassment were also cited.
The governor of Antioquia, Alvaro Uribe, said the
responsibility for a solution was mainly in the hands of the
State, which had to ''provide conditions of security'' in the
affected areas so the rural people could return home.
They are asking the Bank's independent inspection panel to investigate the Itaparica Resettlement and Irrigation Project. This project was set up to compensate local communities for harm done by the dam, which went into operation in 1988. But the people it was supposed to help say the project has failed them.
''We, peasant communities, compulsorily removed by the construction of the Itaparica dam...request the World Bank Inspection Panel to recommend to the executive directors an investigation into the execution of the project for the resettlement of the families affected,'' an English translation of their request states.
The request has been filed by 121 community leaders and a local union of squatter, tenant, and small, independent farmers. It details the falling standards of living and failing health of people living along the Sao Francisco river in the North-eastern Brazilian states of Bahia and Pernambuco.
In particular, the Brazilians complain that irrigation schemes promised them have yet to materialise.
Yet, the Itaparica dam was constructed in the late 1980s for the purpose of generating water for irrigation, as well as hydroelectric power.
The dam was built by the local power company, Companhia Hidreletrica do Sao Francisco (CHESF). World Bank financing was secured by Eletrobras, the national, public-sector power company.
The resettlement project, first agreed to in 1986, was ''the result of an intense campaign by the local communities affected'', the request states. It provided for the setting up of 110 'agrovilas', or agricultural settlements, each with its own health and education facilities.
Six irrigation projects were also to be set up, covering some 19,512.5 hectares of cropland. Some 6,000 families -- or about 40,000 people -- were expected to benefit.
Ten years later, only about one-third of the irrigation systems have been completed, the community leaders complain. Another one- third are still under construction, and about as many remain on the drawing board.
As a result, many resettled communities -- notably, Tuxa indigenous people resettled to the Municipality of Rodelas -- are unable to grow their crops.
Communities lucky enough to have irrigation facilities often have found these either prohibitively expensive to use, plagued with maintenance problems, or both, according to the inspection request.
A number of the agrovilas themselves are falling apart because sub-standard materials were used in their construction, the Brazilians allege.
These problems have contributed to decreased production, increased unemployment, and a general deterioration in the Brazilians' quality of life since they were first forced from their homes, they say. In turn, alcoholism and violence have taken root in their displaced communities.
All this, they argue, amounts to a violation of the Bank's policy on involuntary resettlement. This commits the agency to funding and monitoring resettlement plans that ensure that people forced from their homes under Bank-financed projects are better off -- or at least, no worse off -- after moving.
The Brazilians also allege ''important signs of misuse of resources, or even of the diversion of funds to other schemes, which explains the 'excessive' cost per family resettled of 63,000 dollars, recognised by CHESF and questioned by World Bank experts''.
Nevertheless, the community leaders have not issued a blanket criticism of the Bank.
Their inspection request notes that, ''when Itaparica began operations in 1988, CHESF was still only taking the first steps towards meeting the demands of the affected communities as accepted in the (1986 resettlement) agreement.'' A ''real start'' was made only once the Bank got involved.
''The World Bank thus has had an important role in meeting the demands of the population compulsorily displaced, not only as a funder of the work but also as a participant in the design and planning of the resettlement and irrigation projects,'' they acknowledge.
''Nonetheless, the Bank bears an important share of responsibility for financing the scheme without ensuring that the loan recipients and executors complied with its policies on resettlement and the treatment of populations compulsorily displaced by dams,'' they insist.
Their request cites a 1991 World Bank study showing that Bank- funded projects in the Sao Francisco valley have benefited millions of people in North-eastern Brazil by increasing the supply of electricity, while displacing some 170,000 people.
The Brazilians say a number of their concerns are borne out by that study and that, since it was released, they have repeatedly sought redress from the Bank. They say they have stated their case before Bank officials at all levels, from local staff to Lewis Preston, the Bank's president in 1991-95.
They are now petitioning the Bank's independent inspection panel, which was set up in 1993 as an appeals mechanism to allow local communities to bring grievances against projects.
The panel registered the Brazilians' complaints on Mar. 19. Bank management now has until Apr. 17 to respond to their charges. It may seek to rebut their allegations, demonstrate that it has since attempted -- or now intends -- to fix the problems, or both. The panel will then recommend to the agency's executive board whether or not to mount a full probe. (END/IPS/AA/YJC/97)
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