Shake-Up in Colombia Continues as Chief of Military Resigns

From Times Wire Services

The commander of Colombia's U.S.-backed armed forces resigned Wednesday, the latest in a string of senior officials to leave or be forced out of President Alvaro Uribe's government.

Army Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora said he had decided to retire a month ago and would formally give up his post Nov. 20. Mora, who oversaw a large troop buildup, gave no reason for the move and wished Uribe well.

Looking emotional, the usually tough Mora, 58, told a news conference: "I believe I have fulfilled my duty. I did it with decision, firmness and character, trying to accept and respond to such a high responsibility." No replacement was named.

The announcement caps a weeklong shake-up that has also seen Uribe's defense minister, police commander and interior minister bow out.

Analysts believe that Uribe is trying to breathe new life into his government after last month's embarrassing defeat of a referendum on political reforms that he said were needed to fight leftist rebels and crack down on corruption.

During Mora's tenure, Colombia's overstretched military received more combat troops and more money, cutting off enemy supply lines and pushing rebels fighting a four-decade war to return to more cautious warfare.

But Uribe, whose father was killed by rebels about 20 years ago, had expressed frustration at the lack of decisive battlefield results. Although the army has killed a series of mid-level rebel chiefs, top guerrilla commanders are still at large in a conflict that claims thousands of lives a year.

In a video broadcast Wednesday, seven tourists kidnapped two months ago by National Liberation Army rebels in the northern jungles looked worn and complained of being hungry. It was not clear when the video was made. Four Israelis, two Britons, a German and a Spaniard were seized Sept. 12, but one of the Britons escaped.

In the government turmoil, business leaders and longtime friends of Uribe have taken over the top posts at the interior and defense ministries.

Jorge Alberto Uribe, a U.S.-trained businessman, replaced the country's first female defense minister, Marta Lucia Ramirez, who quit Sunday.

Sabas Pretelt, a business leader and longtime lobbyist, has replaced Interior Minister Fernando Londono, who resigned under government pressure last Thursday after shocking the nation by threatening early elections. President Uribe was forced to issue a statement contradicting Londono.

On Tuesday, Environment Minister Cecilia Rodriguez quit. The same day, Uribe ousted the commander of the Colombian National Police, Gen. Teodoro Campo, and four other senior police officers amid a series of police corruption scandals.

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