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U.N. calls for probe of Colombia massacre
Updated: 2005-03-04 09:08

A United Nations official called Thursday for an investigation into the massacre of eight civilians following accusations Colombian Army soldiers carried out the killings, in which victims were hacked to pieces.

The attack was one of the most horrific in Colombia's brutal war. The eight victims, including three young children and a teenage girl, were buried on a farm in northwest Colombia. A former mayor and a priest have blamed government troops for the massacre.

"The authorities have the great challenge of finding out what happened," Amerigo Incalcaterra, a top member of the United Nations human rights office in Colombia, said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. "Those who are responsible must be brought before the courts, no matter who they are."

Incalcaterra, an Italian, visited the region where the massacre occurred and said members of a "peace community" — whose leader Luis Eduardo Guerra was one of those killed in the Feb. 21 massacre — are terrified that more bloodshed will occur.

Hours after the U.N. official visited the community on Wednesday near the town of Apartado, a convoy of Colombian prosecutors protected by police came under gunfire on the same road, killing one of the policemen and critically wounding another.

Incalcaterra said that attack must also be investigated, adding that the situation "is very delicate." In the interview, he drew no conclusions about who may have been behind the massacre and the attack on the convoy, saying it was up to prosecutors.

"There is a sickness about the people who carried out this horrific crime," Incalcaterra said. "There is no justification for it."

Colombian Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe earlier denied that army troops carried out the killings, saying no soldiers were in the area at the time. The area is controlled by the army's 17th Brigade. Last month, 19 members of the 17th Brigade were killed in a rebel ambush.

A cleric who has been close with residents of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado said Thursday that they believe the army carried out the massacre in retaliation for the rebel ambush, suspecting that the guerrillas had infiltrated the community. The cleric, interviewed by the AP, did not want to be identified by name for security reasons.

The archbishop of Apartado, German Garcia Isaza, condemned the massacre and in a statement called for a rigorous investigation, saying "this blood that has been spilled screams for justice."

Also killed in the massacre were Guerra's wife, his son and five other residents of the peace community, which tries to isolate itself from Colombia's 40-year-old conflict by barring armed groups from entering. Colombia's war pits the U.S.-backed government forces against two leftist rebel groups. Outlawed right-wing paramilitary forces have also been battling the rebels.

Gloria Cuartas, the former mayor of Apartado, located 280 miles northwest of the capital Bogota, and Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo have accused army troops of carrying out the massacre.

"The army in Uraba has no moral authority to defend and protect the population," Cuartas told the AP in a telephone interview.

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