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What happened to the 30,000 paramilitaries recruited in Colombia in the 1980s to help fight the war on far-left guerrilla groups, supposedly "demobilised" by President Alvaro Uribe from 2003 to 2006? Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, RSF) has found that nearly a quarter of them are still active - and behind some of the deadliest crimes against journalists in the country.

RSF devoted its fact-finding trip to Colombia from 28 April to 5 May to these paramilitaries, spending most of the time in Montería, the region where they first emerged. RSF found that the demobilised troops were behind the deaths of at least two journalists last year, and have forced many more into internal exile. Very few of the militamen have been properly reintegrated into civil society, and instead continue to "spread terror" as drug traffickers or contract killers.

And many of them are getting away with it. A "Justice and Peace" law adopted in July 2005 gives the militiamen substantial sentence reductions - five to eight years in jail for the most serious crimes - in exchange for confessing their arms and disarming. Just last week, a former paramilitary chief confessed to ordering a radio journalist's murder in 2004 because the reporter had criticised a paramilitary umbrella group, according to the Institute for Press and Society (Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, IPYS). He is awaiting sentencing.

With Uribe's administration being openly criticised for its links to paramilitary groups, Colombians are asking if the demobilisation remedy is "worse than the disease." Read RSF's full mission report, "Paramilitary 'black eagles' poised to swoop down on the press", at:

(29 May 2007)

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