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Details, motives for paramilitary murders of two journalists clarified

(FLIP/IFEX) - Demobilised paramilitary leader Juan Francisco Prada Márquez, alias "Juancho Prada", has confessed his responsibility for the 2004 murder of Martín Larrota Duarte, director of La Palma Estéreo radio station in the municipality of San Alberto, Cesar department, in northern Colombia.

Prada Márquez's admission was made on 16 May 2007, during his second "spontaneous declaration" (version libre) before a prosecutor of the "Justice and Peace Unit" in Barranquilla. (Such "Justice and Peace" units have been set up in different parts of the country under a special "Justice and Peace" process, through which members of paramilitary groups receive substantial sentence reductions in return for admitting to their crimes and demobilising.)

"I was tired of his chit-chat, so I sent him a message telling him to stop criticising us; he didn't obey and the order to kill him was given," Prada Márquez coldly explained. At the time of the murder, Prada Márquez was the head of the "Hector Julio Peinado" front, responsible for the murder.

Larrota Duarte was stabbed in the chest on 7 February 2004 while asleep at his home. Friends gave him first aid and took him to the San Alberto municipal hospital. He died while being transferred to a hospital in Aguachica.

Larrota Duarte's murder happened a few weeks after he had refused to pay extortion money demanded by the paramilitary so that they would allow the radio station to continue to operate. Just days before his murder, Larrota Duarte also urged the community to stand up to other kinds of blackmail by the paramilitary (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC).

This is the second case in less that a year in which a demobilised or imprisoned paramilitary chief has confessed to the murder of a journalist in retaliation for his journalism. In July 2006, Andrés Darío Cervantes, alias "El Chiche", confessed to murdering Efraín Varela, director of Meridiano 70 radio station, located in the eastern department Arauca.

Although FLIP welcomes these advances, it urges the authorities to ensure that these special "Justice and Peace" processes end with convictions of those responsible for these crimes. It also asks for investigations to be conducted of the attacks and threats which demobilised or reorganized paramilitary groups are still carrying out in some regions of the country.

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