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Colombian special forces troops in training
Colombian special forces troops in training
El Espectador
BOGOTA — As negotiations continue to try to bring a definitive end to Colombia's decades-long civil war, another thorny issue related to the country's violent past won't go away: the fate of soldiers accused of crimes.
The government's proposal for a specific military justice code to handle such cases was recently rejected by the Colombian Supreme Court. In response, the Defense Ministry has just announced a proposal for a so-called Plan B — a request to Congress to approve a "Technical and Specialized Defense Fund" for use in domestic and international trials, to provide legal protection for those accused.
The Ministry is concerned that accused troops risked being left in a “legal limbo” should they be taken to court for alleged rights violations committed in the battle against Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas or criminal gangs.

At home and abroad
Among the cases in question are investigations at the International Court at The Hague into the Army’s 1985 assault on Colombia's Supreme Court of Justice to clear out rebels, and the 2008 bombing of a FARC camp inside Ecuador. One hundred people died in the first incident and civilians "disappeared," while the second killed 22 guerrillas and provoked Ecuador's fury.
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said that “in practice the aim of the Technical Defense Fund is that with the fall of the proposed amplification of the military justice code, there should be enough money to assure an effective defense.”
The fund proposal, he said, “allows the creation of a technical defence system and defence fund to be financed from the national budget, the defense budget and donations.”
He said it could not be used in cases relating to “private incidents, acts of corruption and those unrelated to operational activities of the Public Force,” responding to a question on the delicate case known as “false positives.” This case revolves around allegations that certain officers or troops had youngsters kidnapped, killed, and later “identified” as FARC fighters killed in combat.
Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri Valencia told critics in turn, “make no mistake, we shall not abandon our military and police forces. If we have to present a hundred projects to defend them, we will."
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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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