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Journalist killed in violence-ridden area

Independent journalist Luis Eduardo Gómez, who was also a witness for an investigation into links between politicians and paramilitaries, was gunned down last week in Arboletes, Antioquia, in northwest Colombia, report the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and other IFEX members. He is the first journalist to be killed in Colombia this year, notes the International Press Institute (IPI).

Gómez, 70, who most recently wrote tourism and environmental stories for the newspapers "El Heraldo de Urabá" and "Urabá al Día", was killed on 30 June by two gunmen who shot him from a motorcycle as he was on his way home with his wife, says IPI. According to FLIP, he had not reported receiving threats.

Gómez's son, with whom he had worked in the journalism field, was killed two years ago in circumstances that authorities still have not clarified, but may have been at the hands of paramilitaries, says IPI. The journalist had been investigating the murder of his son and the management of local resources, a local journalist who wished to remain anonymous told FLIP.

He was the second witness in the "parapolitics" case to be killed in 72 hours, and the fourth since November 2010, says IPI. Three days earlier, community leader José Vicente Botero, who also participated in the investigations and had received threats from paramilitary group members, was killed.

According to IPI, at Botero's funeral, Gómez stated that his death was the product of a criminal alliance between politicians and paramilitaries in the region. Inhabitants of Arboletes believe these words were Gómez's death sentence.

Paramilitary groups in the region who refused to demobilise have since formed criminal gangs that continue to operate, says FLIP.

Because of them, self-censorship has been pervasive in the region. "These gangs aren't under anybody's command; they're doing whatever they want. They kill if any information they don't like is made public. It's difficult to simply record an interview. Nobody wants to talk because they're afraid. We have to watch what we say," a journalist who asked to remain anonymous told FLIP.

According to FLIP, 55 Colombian journalists have been victims of threats in the first half of 2011, while 57 occurred in all of 2010.

The latest Impunity Index from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) shows that over the past four years, Colombia is improving its record, as anti-press violence has slowed and authorities have had some success in prosecuting journalist murders.

Colombia "must not allow this new killing to set its progress back," said CPJ.

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