Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

COLOMBIA-ECUADOR: OAS Rejects Military Incursion

Constanza Vieira*

BOGOTA, Mar 18 2008 (IPS) - After 14 hours of deliberation, the foreign ministers of the members of the Organisation of American States (OAS) announced Tuesday that they “reject” Colombia’s recent cross-border incursion into Ecuador, which was carried out “without the knowledge or prior consent of the government” of that country.

The United States, however, refused to approve that point.

In a report prepared by an OAS commission that investigated the Mar. 1 bombing raid by Colombia on a FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla camp within Ecuadorian territory, the Colombian government modified its own initial version of how the attack was carried out.

Colombia was pleased that the OAS resolution did not include the much stronger term “condemn,” and that it did not consider sanctions. The term “reject” is stated in the fourth paragraph, while the third paragraph “reaffirm(s) the full applicability of the principle of territorial sovereignty”.

The United States supported the resolution with reservations, arguing that Colombia has the right to act in self-defence as established by Article 22 of the OAS charter, which was approved in 1948.

But paragraph four states that Colombia violated Articles 19 and 21 of the OAS charter.

Article 19 establishes that “No state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state”, while article 21 says that “The territory of a state is inviolable; it may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or of other measures of force taken by another state, directly or indirectly, on any grounds whatever.”

The first paragraph of the resolution approved Tuesday says that “abstention from the threat or use of force, and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states” are “principles that are binding on all (OAS) member states in all circumstances.”

The OAS once again avoided describing the FARC as a “terrorist” force, as it is classified by Colombia, the United States and the European Union.

The resolution also took into account Colombia’s request “To reiterate the firm commitment of all member states to combat threats to security caused by the actions of irregular groups or criminal organisations, especially those associated with drug trafficking,” and to create a mechanism for monitoring compliance with this resolution.

After meeting all night in Washington, the ministers finally reached an agreement on the resolution at 5:00 AM GMT.

The Colombian bombing of the FARC camp in Ecuador, which killed the rebel group’s international spokesman, Raúl Reyes, led to the rupture of diplomatic ties with Colombia by Ecuador.

The OAS resolution also “welcomed” the declaration adopted by the heads of state and government of the Rio Group, Latin America’s highest-level political forum, at its Mar. 7 summit in the Dominican Republic, underlining “its contribution to the easing of tensions and to rapprochement between the parties, based on the principle of international law.”

After a heated debate in the summit in Santo Domingo, handshakes and hugs put an end to the tension between Presidents Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, on one hand, and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Rafael Correa of Ecuador on the other.


The foreign ministers also received the report by the OAS fact-finding commission that visited the site of the attack and other spots in Ecuador as well as Colombia from Mar. 9-12, headed up by Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, in compliance with a resolution adopted by the OAS Permanent Council on Mar. 5.

In the report, the description of events that the Uribe administration gave the OAS delegation differs from what was described in the government’s initial public statements.

The report presented by the delegation says Colombian authorities had initially planned to attack a camp in Colombia, where Reyes was supposed to be found on Feb. 29.

But late that night, the Colombian military received information that Reyes was actually across the border in Ecuador, which led them to the decision to carry out a “double” operation, with attacks on both camps, using “different planes,” as Uribe administration officials told the OAS commission.

Immediately after the raid, however, Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos had stated that the military had originally planned to bomb a location in Colombia, close to the border, at 12:25 AM, but that as the troops being transported by helicopter were approaching the place, to occupy it, they were attacked from across the Ecuadorian border.

The communiqué read out by Santos added that after a soldier, Carlos Hernández, “unfortunately died in the attack by the guerrillas,” the camp from which the rebels opened fire was located, 1,800 metres inside Ecuador, and was bombed from Colombian territory, without violating Ecuadorian airspace.

But the Colombian government told the OAS that Hernández died in Ecuador and that his body was transported to Colombia from that country along with the bodies of Reyes and another guerrilla, who has not yet been identified.

Colombian journalist Ignacio Gómez told the Noticias Uno TV news station on Sunday that Hernández was killed when a tree left just barely standing after the camp was bombed from the air fell on him.

Ecuadorian President Correa expressed to the OAS his doubts on whether international humanitarian law was respected, since several bodies had “bullet wounds in their back, fired from a short distance,” indicating that they had been the victims of extrajudicial execution. The people in the camp were sleeping at the time of the bombing raid.

Ecuador also called for clarification of “how long the incursion by the Colombian military forces in Ecuadorian territory lasted.”

According to the technical report that the Ecuadorian military presented to the OAS, “six 500-pound GBU-12 bombs were dropped by planes flying in a South to North direction, and four bombs were dropped by planes moving in a North to South direction…within Ecuadorian airspace.”

The Correa administration also maintains that the bombs used require advanced technology that the Colombian air force does not have.

The GBU-12 (Guided Bomb Unit) is an antitank laser-guided air-to-ground missile that has no propulsion system of its own, which means the pilot must be relatively close to the target in order for the laser guidance system to operate.

Colombia, however, claimed that the bombs used were “conventional” and roundly denied that its planes had overflown Ecuadorian territory.

According to the Colombian government, the bombs were launched by A-37 planes and guided by satellite by means of the Global Positioning System (GPS).

But when Bogotá notified Quito of the attack, it provided inaccurate coordinates, according to the Correa administration, which is why the first Ecuadorian military contingent took longer than expected to reach the site of the bombing, arriving at 1:00 PM that day (the raid occurred in the early morning hours).

*With additional reporting by Humberto Márquez in Caracas.

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