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Rights Attorney Killed in Colombia

April 19, 1998

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ In the third slaying of a leading Colombian human rights activist in less than two months, an attorney who gained prominence defending guerrilla leaders was killed in his office with two shots to the head by assassins posing as journalists.

Eduardo Umana Mendoza, 50, was surprised in his central Bogota office on Saturday by two men and a women who tied up his secretary, police said. The killers, one of whom carried a video camera, posed as a television crew to gain entrance.

The government offered a $370,000 reward for information leading to the capture of those who killed Umana, a leading defender of arrested guerrillas and other leftist activists.

His most important recent case was representing leaders of the national oil workers union charged with conspiring with leftist rebels to blow up oil pipelines.

The union’s president, Hernando Hernandez, said he had no doubt the shooting was the work of a right-wing paramilitary death squad. ``He was under threat by those groups,″ Hernandez said at the scene as police removed the body.

Hernandez said the union, known by its Spanish initials USO, would stage a 24-hour strike on Monday to protest the killing.

Umana was killed a day after a gunman surprised a Colombian Communist Party activist at her door, killing Maria Arango with multiple gunshots. Arango, 60, was a human rights activist and founder of a communist youth group.

German Umana told reporters that his brother was killed ``for the same reason Maria Arango was killed, because so many people who want peace and respect for human rights in this country are murdered.″

National police chief Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano said in a television interview that both killings had ``similar details.″

On Feb. 27, gunmen killed Jesus Maria Valle Jaramillo in his Medellin office with two shots to the head after tying up his secretary. The 53-year-old human rights activist had accused the army and high-ranking politicians of sponsoring death squads.

Human rights workers are under constant threat in Colombia. Last year, Amnesty International closed its office in the country because of death threats.