Latin America & Caribbean

Colombian state held liable over rebel attack on base

File photo Rodrigo Rivera on 21 March 2011
Image caption Defence Minister Rodrigo Rivera said the ruling was "worrying"

A Colombian court has ordered the state to pay $1m in damages to three soldiers injured in a 1996 left-wing rebel attack on a military base.

Colombia's highest administrative court, the State Council, ruled that the military command at the time had not done enough to prevent the attack.

Around 600 Farc rebels attacked Las Delicias base in Putumayo, in southern Colombia in August 1996.

Thirty-one soldiers died and 60 were kidnapped in the attack.

The court ordered the Ministry of Defence to pay $933,000 to three of the injured soldiers and the family of one of those killed.

The court ruled that "the state created a risky situation by placing Las Delicias army base in a location with limited protection and defences without providing the support and protection required under the constitution."

'Unjust ruling'

The magistrates said the soldiers stationed at Las Delicias lacked the necessary training and preparation to repel the guerrilla attack.

The base was not strategically located and the military command failed to send back-up once the attack was under way, the magistrates added.

Colombian Defence Minister Rodrigo Rivera said his ministry was looking into the legal implications of the case.

He said it was worrying that the court had ruled against the state in a case based on the actions perpetrated by a group of "narcoterrorists".

Retired Gen Harold Bedoya, who headed the Colombian army at the time of the attack, called the ruling unjust.

He said the magistrates failed to take into account the difficult security situation the country was living at the time.

Gen Bedoya said the day of the attack on Las Delicias, the rebels staged 20 other offensives in different parts of the country, leaving the army thinly stretched.

Farc offensive

Former President Ernesto Samper also criticised the ruling.

Mr Samper, who was in office from 1994-1998, said it set a precedent which could lead to any type of military operation coming under scrutiny.

"No matter how well-prepared the soldiers could have been, it still would have been very difficult for them to repel the attack by the 600 to 800 guerrillas," he added.

Mr Samper negotiated a prisoner exchange with the Farc after the attack, which resulted in the release of the 60 kidnapped soldiers.

Las Delicias was the first of a series of high-profile offensives by Farc rebels.

In December 1997, they overran a military base on Patascoy mountain, killing 10 soldiers and kidnapping 18.

And in March 1998, they launched an offensive against El Billar base in southern Caqueta province, killing 65 soldiers and taking 43 hostage.

The rebels have lost much of its strength since, with their numbers dropping from 16,000 fighters in 2001 to about 8,000.

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