A former militiaman was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his role in the murder of journalist Alvaro Alonso Escobar, who was gunned down a decade ago in a coastal town in northern Colombia, the Attorney General’s Office said Monday.
Edgar Ariel Cordoba Trujillo was also ordered to pay a fine equivalent to $467,950.
The sentence and fine were handed down to Cordoba by a court in Santa Marta, the capital of Magdalena province, the AG’s office said.
Two unidentified individuals gunned down Escobar on Dec. 23, 2001, in Fundacion, Magdalena, where he edited and published the weekly Region.
Cordoba told investigators about “his role in the murder of a person protected (by international human rights law) and conspiracy to commit a crime in the role of a co-author,” the AG’s office said.
Escobar was the second journalist from Fundacion murdered by gunmen. Hernando Rangel Moreno was killed on April 11, 1999.
Over the past 20 years, 90 journalists have been murdered in Colombia, the Fundacion para la Libertad de Prensa said.
Cordoba, known as “Cinco Siete,” was in charge of a unit from the Northern Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, militia federation.
The AUC, accused of committing numerous human rights violations, demobilized more than 31,000 of its fighters between the end of 2003 and mid-2006 as part of the peace process with former President Alvaro Uribe’s administration.
The group was made up of numerous rural defense cooperatives formed more than 20 years ago to battle leftist rebels.
Many of the militias, however, degenerated into death squads and carried out massacres of peasants suspected of having rebel sympathies, along with slayings of journalists and union members accused of favoring the leftist insurgents.
Under the terms of the 2005 Peace and Justice Law, pushed through Congress by the U.S.-backed Uribe administration to regulate the militiamen’s reinsertion into society, former AUC members face a maximum of eight years in prison if convicted of any of the scores of massacres of suspected rebel sympathizers attributed to the rightists over the years.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court upheld the law in 2006 but conditioned the sentence reductions on full disclosure and confession of crimes and reparations to victims.
On May 13, 2008, the Colombian government extradited 14 former AUC chiefs to the United States.
The former AUC commanders were wanted in the United States on drug, money laundering and other charges.