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Colombia court orders release of first general under peace deal

© AFP/File | Colombia's conflict killed some 260,000 people while 60,000 have vanished, and 6.9 million been displaced within the country


A judge on Friday ordered the release of a Colombian army general from prison, the first case involving a top official to be reviewed by a court system set up by the government's peace deal with the FARC rebels.

Retired general Jaime Humberto Uscategui was first jailed in 1999 for failing to prevent a massacre by paramilitary commandos that killed at least 49 people.

Uscategui, who professes his innocence, was the first general to be convicted because of paramilitary violence.

He was granted "conditional" release after he was deemed to have met the requirements of the court system -- the Special Jurisdiction for Peace -- according to the government's judicial branch.

Created by November's deal to end a half-century conflict, it was instituted to try crimes committed by rebels, government forces and some civilians.

The agreement provides for the provisional release of convicted officials who have served a minimum of five years. Their release is contingent on their agreeing to testify at a truth commission.

The court reviewed Uscategui's case in late March.

The general had been serving 37 years for colluding with a right-wing paramilitary force that killed at least 49 suspected guerrilla sympathizers in the village of Mapiripan in July 1997.

A court acquitted him in 2007. However, a Bogota superior tribunal reinstated his sentence two years later. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction and the 37-year sentence in 2014.

"I am not afraid of the truth," Uscategui said in a statement on Friday.

"I see in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace an opportunity to prove my innocence and reclaim my good name."

Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said Friday that 20 members of the security forces have already been freed and that judges have a list of 900 more set for release under the peace deal's framework.

As part of the agreement, courts in February also began amnestying rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who had been sentenced only for minor crimes.

Colombia's conflict -- which also involved other guerrilla groups, right-wing paramilitaries and government forces -- killed some 260,000 people while 60,000 have vanished, and 6.9 million been displaced within the country.

© 2017 AFP