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A Boon for Bogota

Under normal circumstances, getting about 13,000 heavily armed, violent people off the streets would cheer up even the most skeptical. That wasn’t the case in Colombia eight months ago when President Alvaro Uribe announced his plan to disarm, demobilize and reincorporate into society the largest paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

Many of Uribe’s critics, though, had a point. Colombia needs justice as much as it needs peace. Under Uribe’s initial plan, the paramilitary armies would have ended up, literally, getting away with murder. Many Colombians objected to pardoning those responsible for massacres. Human Rights Watch has insisted that members of the paramilitary who committed murders or issued threats be punished for their crimes. Last week, the situation improved for Uribe and for Colombia. The Organization of American States, with substantial feedback from Human Rights Watch, agreed to support Colombia’s peace process by sending a mission headed by an experienced peace negotiator, Sergio Caramagna, to monitor a cease-fire and oversee the disarmament of the private armies. The OAS presence there should help Colombia reduce the level of violence in the country while ensuring that those responsible for serious human rights violations will be prosecuted and punished.

Colombia needs money and the support of an organization like the OAS. The international group, with a history of helping settle disputes and the clout of 35 member nations in North and South America, including the United States, is well suited to help Colombia now. The OAS did a similar monitoring job in Nicaragua in the 1990s, supervising a cease-fire in that country’s civil war and the disarmament of the Contra rebels. U.S. taxpayers have pitched in almost $3 billion since 2000 to buy military equipment to fight narcotics and terrorism, train the Colombian army and improve regional stability. Toward that end, there’s no doubt that it’s good for Colombia now to rid itself of thousands of armed and lawless ideologues and to do it in a way that can be embraced by the international community. Now there’s a better chance that the reduction of violence in Colombia will be lasting.


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