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NEWS STORY

Colombia Searches for 236 Youngsters Hidden by Militias

April 12, 2010

BOGOTA – The Colombian Attorney General’s Office is trying to track down at least 236 minors from the ranks of the AUC right-wing militias who were sent into hiding by commanders when the paramilitaries ostensibly demobilized, Bogota daily El Tiempo said on its Web page.

A team of 50 people with the AG office has been deployed over the past two months throughout Colombia to try and find the children.

While prosecutors regard the underage fighters as victims of forced recruitment, they are also anxious to stop them from joining new paramilitary groups that arose after the AUC officially stood down.

These 236 children are the first candidates to enter a program headed by the office of Peace and Reintegration Commissioner Frank Pearl.

“Locating them and protecting them is the priority,” Pearl said in remarks to El Tiempo, adding that he assumed that there are many more children with paramilitary pasts about which nothing is known.

The erstwhile chief of the AUC’s BEC unit, Freddy Rendon, told authorities that, before laying down his arms in August 2006 with 650 men under his command, he hid 150 children, of whom 20 have been found in the northwestern region of Uraba.

But, from the confessions of other paramilitaries, the AG office knows that there are 35 youths in the southern border province of Putumayo, 23 more in the northwestern city of Medellin and another 17 in the central province of Risaralda.

The search process is trying to prevent cases like that of Hernan Giraldo Ochoa, known as “Rambito” (“Little Rambo”), who was 21 at the time of his arrest last year on charges of terrorism, murder and drug trafficking.

Rambito earned his nickname because from the age of 11 he carried a rifle, the son of warlord and drug trafficker Hernan Giraldo Sierra.

Information from the AG office indicates that Giraldo Sierra apprenticed his son to the Mejia Munera drug organization, which promised a future for “Rambito as head of one of the new bands that would arise after the AUC demobilization.”

Meanwhile, Giraldo Sierra sent another 15 underage fighters to be live at their respective homes with the equivalent of $600 each in their pockets.

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