Colombia president apologizes for military actions in 1985 law courts assault

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 06, 2015 2:31 PM

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Friday apologized for military actions during a 1985 assault on Bogota's Palace of Justice by M-19 rebels, in which over 100 people died including nearly half of the country's Supreme Court justices.

In the name of the state, he offered the apology to relatives of the victims who died when the armed forces stormed the building to end a 27-hour hostage-taking of judicial employees by the leftist M-19 guerrillas.

"Today I recognize the responsibility of the Colombian state and I ask forgiveness," Santos said standing outside the Palace of Justice with relatives including current Justice Minister Yesid Reyes, whose Supreme Court president father was among the 11 justices killed.

Santos spoke on the 30th anniversary of the attack outside of the rebuilt law courts, located a block from the presidential palace in Bogota's central square.

"Here there occurred a deplorable, absolutely condemnable action by the M-19, but it must be recognized there were failures in the conduct and procedures of state agents," he added.

During the assault, the city's historic downtown area was turned into a battlefield as troops backed by tanks, rockets and helicopters launched repeated counter-attacks as the building burned.

Supreme Court President Alfonso Reyes Echandia, who died in the siege, pleaded in telephone calls to a Bogota radio station for a ceasefire and dialogue with the rebels.

But then-president Belisario Betancur refused to call off the siege. He later was accused by his own attorney general of violating Colombian constitutional rights and the international rights of civilian hostages in the operation.

Families of some victims allege military involvement in the disappearances of loved ones whose bodies have never been recovered.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights said in a 2014 ruling the Colombian state was responsible for forced disappearances, torture and extra-judicial executions during the crisis.

Citing the court decision, Santos added that he also apologized for violating the right to personal safety of those who were inside the Palace of Justice.

The M-19 demobilized in 1990 after a peace deal with the government. The country's five-decade-long conflict has killed at least 220,000 people and displaced millions.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by W Simon)