Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia probes disappearances from Bogota prison

An explosion in the Modelo Prison in Bogota, Colombia, 3 July 2001. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption La Modelo prison was the scene of deadly fights between inmates between 1999 and 2001

Prosecutors in Colombia are investigating more than 100 reported cases of disappearances from a jail in Bogota between 1999 and 2001.

Prosecutors think inmates and visitors to La Modelo prison may have been killed, their bodies dismembered and thrown into the jail's sewers.

The prison houses left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and drug dealers.

Parts were controlled by inmates at the time of the disappearances.

In 2000, the dismembered body of an inmate who had disappeared eight days earlier was found stuffed inside a plastic bag in a drain in the jail.

A day after the discovery, 17 inmates disappeared during a deadly prison fight between rival factions. They were never found.

Since then, rumours that they and other inmates and visitors who disappeared from La Modelo may have been disposed of in the same way as the prisoner whose body was found in the drain have been rife.

On Wednesday, prosecutor Caterina Heyck said her office was "committed to shining light on the horrors which happened in La Modelo in 2000".

Abducted for asking questions

The reports of forced disappearances and arms trafficking inside the jail were first investigated by Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya in 2000.

Ms Bedoya was kidnapped as she was waiting to enter La Modelo on 25 May 2000 to meet with paramilitary leader Mario Jaimes, known as Panadero (The Baker), who had promised her information.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jineth Bedoya (centre) was given the International Women of Courage Award in 2012

She was forced into a car, drugged and driven by three men to the countryside. There, she was tortured and raped.

Ten hours after they first seized her, they left her tied up in a rubbish pile up by the side of a road three hours' drive from Bogota.

Prosecutor Caterina Heyck said on Wednesday that the new investigation was triggered by Ms Bedoya's work and what happened to the journalist 16 years ago.

'Common criminals'

Ms Heyck also announced that she had requested that Mario "The Baker" Jaimes, who earlier this month confessed to ordering Ms Bedoya's kidnapping, and Alejandro "JJ" Cardenas, who has admitted being one of the three men who abducted, raped and tortured her, not benefit from the Justice and Peace law.

The law was introduced in 2005 to encourage paramilitaries to demobilize by offering them reduced sentences if they laid down their arms and confessed to their crimes.

But Ms Heyck said that Jaimes and Cardenas, who are both in prison, had kept silent for almost 16 years and should be treated as common criminals.

Investigators suspect Jaimes may also be behind some of the other disappearances at La Modelo prison as he ran one of the prison yards from which a number of inmates are reported to have gone missing.

Left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitaries divided up the jail between them and patrolled their areas, hooded and armed with grenades and automatic weapons.

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