Colombian president vows to improve protection of rights activists

Bogota (AFP) –


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday announced new measures to protect human rights activists, a week after the ombudsman revealed shocking murder statistics.

More than 300 rights activists have been killed since the start of the year, an average of one every three days.

"We categorically condemn and repudiate these murders and we won't rest until we find and punish those responsible for these terrible crimes," said Santos at the end of a security council meeting at the presidential residence in Bogota.

Santos announced a reward system for information leading to the identification of those responsible for the murders.

The financial incentives "would increase for the identification of the masterminds behind these crimes," he added, without giving specific monetary details.

Santos said the protection of rights activists would be a "priority" for his center-left government until he leaves office on August 7.

Last week, ombudsman Carlos Alfonso Negret said most of the murders were committed in lawless areas beset by drug smuggling and illegal mining, but didn't identify the perpetrators.

Some left-wing activists and politicians have pointed the finger at police and right-wing paramilitaries whom they accuse of carrying out extra-judicial killings of former FARC guerrillas.

Colombia is battling to end the final armed conflict in South America against the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Since the 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels, the Marxist ELN remains the last organized group fighting against the government.

FARC has transformed itself into a political party but claims about 40 former rebels have since been killed in military operations and by right-wing groups.

Colombia, the world's primary producer of cocaine, endured a 50-year multifaceted armed conflict involving Marxist guerrillas, paramilitary groups, drug gangs and state security agencies, in which more than eight million people were killed, disappeared or displaced.