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REGIONS:

PARAMILITARY LEADER SENTENCED FOR MURDER OF JOURNALIST

On 10 March 2004, a Bogotá criminal court sentenced Carlos Castaño Gil to 38 years in prison for masterminding the 1999 murder of journalist Jaime Garzón, but acquitted the two men accused of the actual crime owing to tainted evidence, reported the Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa, FLIP).

The sentence was handed down in absentia, since Castaño Gil failed to appear for an earlier proceeding in 2002 and is still a fugitive. Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) noted that Castaño Gil is the leader of the extreme-right paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Garzón was murdered on 13 August 1999 as he was driving to his office at Radionet radio station. RSF suggested that the motive was Castaño Gil's belief that Garzón had taken money from guerrillas for his involvement in hostage release negotiations.

FLIP reported that the judge in the case, Julio Roberto Ballén Silva, discounted the testimony of three witnesses for the prosecution and ordered a new investigation.

A Colombian lawyers' collective had asserted that several people had been killed during the first investigation, said RSF, calling for protection for all those linked to the case.

RSF added that, "It is crucial that all those responsible, those who carried out the murder and those who ordered it, should be identified and caught. We welcome the verdict, but it does not bring an end to impunity in this case."

For more information, visit:
-FLIP: http://www.flip.org.co
-RSF: http://www.rsf.org

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