BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- The U.S. government told CNN it suspended military aid within the last week to three Colombian army units implicated in the extrajudicial killings of at least 11 innocent civilians.
The official did not state how much aid was involved, and there was no immediate reaction from the Colombian government.
Aid was also suspended to "several other" army brigades allegedly involved in the spree of illegal executions, a senior U.S. government official said. That aid was suspended before a recent scandal alleging those units violated human rights, the official said.
On Tuesday, the commander of Colombia's army resigned abruptly, as the scandal widened, but he did not mention the scandal as a factor in his retirement, according to The Associated Press. Gen. Mario Montoya won wide acclaim for the bloodless hostage rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors on July 2, AP reported.
Last week the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called the killings "systematic and widespread in my view." She said Colombian authorities must investigate and prosecute "the perpetrators."
On October 29 the Colombian government fired 27 army officers and senior non-commissioned officers, or NCOs, accused of negligence or direct involvement in the slayings of 11 young men from a poor Bogota suburb. The bodies of the men, who disappeared from their homes earlier this year, were unearthed in a mass grave in northeast Colombia in September. The army initially said they were guerrilla fighters killed in combat.
Of the 27 dismissed officers, 15 had received "some form of individual training" from the United States in recent years, the senior official said in a statement provided to CNN on Wednesday. The term "individual training" often means officers trained in U.S. military institutions.
Under U.S. law, Washington must vet Colombian military units before they receive aid to ensure they do not violate human rights. However, the law does not specify the definition of a military unit, which in some cases can even be applied to an individual rather than the battalion or brigade to which he belongs.
A carefully worded statement attributed to the U.S. government official said: "At the time of the dismissals, three subunits within which these individuals were serving were eligible for U.S. assistance: two division command units and one demining unit. Presently none of these units are eligible for assistance."
The statement added: "Several of the involved brigades had received assistance in the past but had been suspended previously (prior to the scandal) due to concerns over human right abuses."
Colombia has received around $5 billion from Washington since 2000, mostly in military aid as part of an anti-narcotics and counterinsurgency program called "Plan Colombia."
The Colombian government received around $615 million in army and police aid in fiscal 2007, according to figures compiled by the Washington-based Center for International Policy and based on U.S. government figures. Around $605 million in military aid has been earmarked for Colombia in fiscal 2008, according to the same sources.
"We now know there's a larger pattern of human rights abuses in the Colombian military. And eight years after Plan Colombia started, this has not substantially improved the attitude to human rights abuses or to the investigations of such abuses," said Adam Isacson, director of the demilitarization and Colombia program at the Center for International Policy. The center says it promotes U.S. foreign policy based on international cooperation, demilitarization and respect for basic human rights.
The statement by the senior U.S. government official praised Uribe for firing the army officers in an effort to ensure respect for human rights.
"These are exceptional and important steps. As we commend the Colombian government, we know that more needs to be done. We encourage the Colombian government to bring the perpetrators of these human rights violations acts to justice through transparent investigations that guarantee due process," the statement says.
The problem of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances attributed to the Colombian military appears to be far wider than the 11 cases under investigation.
The Colombia attorney general's office was undertaking 780 criminal investigations into extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by members of the security forces between January 2003 and September 2007, a spokesman said. He added that 1,137 civilians were killed in those cases.
The spokesman said a list of other similar cases stretched to the 1980s, and those figures did not include forced disappearances attributed to the military.
The problem is worse in Colombia than under the 17-year dictatorship of Chile's General Augusto Pinochet from 1973-90, some international human rights groups say. During that period, there were around 3,000 reported cases of extrajudicial killings, including 1,000 disappearances.
Independent Colombian human rights groups say they have recorded at least 9,000 cases of forced disappearances attributable to the Colombian army and police stretching to the late 1970s. However, forced disappearance was not classified as a crime under Colombian law until 2000.
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