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Report Confirms ‘Crazy’ Witness’ Account of Army Massacres

February 7, 1995 GMT

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ In April 1990, a man traveled from his village to the capital to tell officials an incredible tale: Soldiers and their paramilitary allies were torturing peasants and killing them with chainsaws.

Authorities sent the man _ Daniel Arcila, a fruitpicker from Trujillo _ to a psychiatrist. He was judged a paranoid psychopath and his claims were dismissed. A year later, Arcila was arrested by security forces and hasn’t been heard from since.

Almost four years and over 100 mutilated bodies later, the account by Arcila _ now believed to be a victim of the soldiers he denounced _ has gained credibility.

A report prepared by a joint commission of Colombian government representatives and human rights investigators links the killings of 107 people in Trujillo between 1988 and 1991 to an army major, other soldiers and paramilitary members.

The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, slams Colombia’s judicial system. It recommends that the judge and psychiatrist involved in the botched handling of Arcila be investigated, and that the accused killers be tried and, if found guilty, punished.

In Washington, the Organization of America States’ human rights commission held a closed-door hearing Tuesday that is expected to deal with what has become known as the Trujillo massacre. The commission started its annual review of human rights violations in the Western Hemisphere on Monday.

Commission chairman Michael Reisman, an American, said its conclusions will be presented to the OAS Foreign Ministers’ meeting this summer.

The massacres chronicled in the report shocked Colombia _ even after more than 30 years of guerrilla warfare, in which leftist rebels have also committed atrocities.

Government soldiers used Arcila, whose car had been commandeered by guerrillas, to identify suspected rebel collaborators. They didn’t bother to send him away before killing them.

Arcila’s testimony about water torture and beheadings _ discarded as rubbish by prosecutors after they heard the psychiatrist’s evaluation _ were reprinted Monday in the Semana weekly newsmagazine.

``They were blindfolded ... and put into large coffee sacks,″ he said.

``Later, Maj. Uruena took a 2-inch hose, and the first he put it to was a 55-year-old lady, who began to shout: `Don’t you have children? For holy God’s sake, what are you going to do to me?′

``The major repeated the same torture with everyone. Then he told one of the paramilitaries to get a chainsaw. Then he cut off their heads ... and later cut everyone into pieces.″

The accounts provoked horror in Colombia’s media.

``What happened in Trujillo is monstruous. It’s savage. Primitive. Barbaric,″ mourned a columnist in Monday’s edition of El Tiempo, Colombia’s most widely read newspaper.

President Ernesto Samper, who assumed office last August, ousted Col. Alirio Antonio Uruena, a major at the time of the massacres, for his alleged role in the killings. Until his firing last week, Uruena was a brigade intelligence officer.

Today he is not in jail, or even charged.

Samper last week acknowledged the government’s reponsibility for the killings. Human rights observers hailed Samper’s courage for accepting government blame for the killings in a country where such massacres have long been committed and covered up by the military _ with civilian rulers consistently failing to intervene.

But while human rights monitors applaud Samper for taking reponsibility for the murders and vowing not to let them be repeated, they worry the deaths will go unpunished.

They hope the OAS human rights commission will press the Colombian government to go beyond taking responsibility to exacting punishment.

``The most important question is, what will happen to the perpetrators,″ said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch-Americas, in a telephone interview from Washington. ``Col. Uruena has been ousted. Is that all that’s going to happen?″