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Colombia's president apologizes for 1985 military assault on Supreme Court

Colombia's president has apologized for the military's 1985 assault on the Supreme Court after it was taken over by leftist rebels. More than 100 people, including half the country's Supreme Court judges, were killed.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos apologized on Friday for the military's 1985 assault on the Supreme Court after M-19 rebels overran the building and took hundreds of people hostage.

"Today I recognize the responsibility of the Colombian state and I ask forgiveness," Santos said standing outside the Palace of Justice in Bogota on the 30th anniversary of the assault. He personally addressed all the victims' families by name.

"Here there occurred a deplorable, absolutely condemnable action by the M-19, but it must be recognized there were failures in the conduct and procedures of state agents," Santos said.

M-19 rebels, who reached a peace agreement with the state in 1990, had stormed the Supreme Court, taking many hostages, including Supreme Court judges. The rebels demanded to put then-president Belisario Betancur on trial.

A two-day military assault turned downtown Bogota into a battle-zone. In the end, 11 Supreme Court judges were killed, including the court's president, Alfonso Reyes Echandia, who pleaded in telephone calls to a Bogota radio station for a ceasefire and dialogue with the rebels.

Despite the Supreme Court head's call, Betancur continued the siege and the government ordered TV networks to broadcast a football match instead of footage from outside the court.

After leaving office in 1986, Betancur claimed the generals had taken over the situation, and he was later absolved of any crime by a congressional investigation.

In all, more than 100 rebels, civilians and workers were killed, and 12 people tortured and disappeared by the military after the siege ended. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2014 condemned the Colombian state for the disappearances of mostly cafeteria workers.

The siege was also controversial because thousands of court records were destroyed, including those pertaining to the infamous Medellin cartel boss Pablo Escobar.

The United States and Colombia were negotiating an extradition treaty at the time under review by the court. M-19 opposed the treaty on nationalist grounds, but allegations have surfaced that Escobar could have backed M-19 to carry out the attack.

'Stop the gunfire'

Santo's apology came as FARC rebels and the state near a historic five-point peace agreement after three years of negotiations to end 51 years of conflict.

"Stop the gunfire," Santos said, referring to the conflict that has displaced millions and killed more than 200,000 people. "Stop the gunfire in Colombia forever."

A September communique between the FARC and Colombia negotiated in Cuba envisions compensation for victims, return of confiscated land, special courts, transitional justice and amnesties, disarmament of the FARC and its inclusion as a future political movement, among other measures.

In October, the two sides agreed on provisions related to the missing and disappeared.

Santos said last month he would like a ceasefire to be implemented by the end of the year as the next step in the peace process. The government had previously not agreed to a ceasefire. The FARC called a ceasefire in December 2014 that has largely held, except for a brief flare-up between April and July.

Both sides are aiming for a final agreement to be concluded by March 2016.

cw/sms (AP, Reuters)

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