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Colombian General Convicted

February 13, 2001 GMT

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A military tribunal has convicted a cashiered army general of failing to defend a village where a right-wing paramilitary death squad slaughtered dozens of people. It was the first conviction of a Colombian general in a major human rights case.

Retired Gen. Jaime Humberto Uscategui was convicted and sentenced late Monday to 40 months in a military prison for ``omission″ in failing to respond during the July 1997 massacre of at least 22 people in the southern village of Mapiripan.

The killers, members of the nationwide United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, accused their victims of supporting leftist guerrillas.

Homicide charges were dropped, however. A colonel under Uscategui’s command at the time of the killings whose testimony first implicated Uscategui was also convicted. Col. Hernan Orozco received a 38-month sentence.

Colombia has been under pressure to prosecute military officers implicated in human rights cases _ one of the conditions established for receiving U.S. military aid.

Uscategui, who was forced out of the military last year and was under arrest at the time of the conviction, said he would appeal. Human rights activists believe he should have received a stiffer sentence.

The general was a regional army commander in southern Meta State at the time of the killings. The paramilitary fighters allegedly landed at a military base before heading to the village, raising charges that the army was complicit in the attack.

The assassins remained in Mapiripan for several days, during which local officials’ pleas for help from the military went unheeded.