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Paramilitary group member confesses to murder of Barrancabermeja journalist

(FLIP/IFEX) - A demobilised member of paramilitary group, Pablo Emilio Quintero Dodino, alias "Bedoya", has confessed to the 6 April 2003 murder of journalist José Emeterio Rivas Rivas, which took place in the city of Barrancabermeja, Santander department, northern Colombia. He did so in recent testimony before a judge of the "Justice and Peace" Unit of the Prosecutor's Office, in Medellín, the capital of Antioquia department. (Under the special "Justice and Peace" process, members of paramilitary groups are offered substantial sentence reductions in return for confessing to their crimes and agreeing to demobilise.)

"Bedoya" indicated that the order to kill Rivas Rivas was given by "Felipe Candado", a high-ranking leader of the Bloque Central Bolívar (BCB) unit of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group, one of several controlling the Barrancabermeja area at that time. "The notice (by 'Candado') that Rivas had to be killed was given 20 days prior," said Quintero Dodino. Reportedly, "Candado" was killed in an accident in 2004.

A source close to FLIP in the department questioned the convenient designation of a person now dead as the crime's mastermind. Some journalists in the region believe that the true mastermind of the murder was another former BCB commander, now demobilized.

Rivas Rivas was a well-known voice in the region for his work on Calor Estéreo radio station in Barrancabermeja. The station had been sharply critical of the local mayor, reporting on irregularities in the management of public funds by the municipality. Rivas Rivas, 44 at the time of his death, was the father of two children.

The murder investigation had led to the arrest of Barrancabermaja's former mayor, Julio César Ardila Torres, as the mastermind behind the crime. However, his detention order was subsequently revoked, although he remains under investigation for the murder.

This is the third case in which a demobilised or imprisoned paramilitary group member has confessed to the murder of a journalist under the provisions of the Justice and Peace law. The first was in July 2006, when Andrés Darío Cervantes, alias "El Chiche", confessed to the 28 June 2002 murder of Efraín Varela, director of Meridiano 70 radio station, in Arauca (see IFEX alerts of 7 June 2007, 3 and 2 July 2002).

In May 2007, demobilized paramilitary chief Juan Francisco Prada Márquez, alias "Juancho Prada", confessed to masterminding the 7 February 2004 murder of Martín La Rotta Duarte, director of La Palma Estéreo radio station, in the municipality of San Alberto, Cesar department (see alerts of 7 June and 25 May 2007 and 30 May 2005; please note that in previous alerts the journalist's last name was sometimes spelled "Larrota Duarte").

FLIP recognises this confession as a new step in reducing the impunity in which Rivas Rivas's murder has remained, and calls upon the Colombian justice system to clarify the real identity of those who masterminded his killing.

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