Colombia ex-army chief will be charged over extrajudicial killings

FILE PHOTO: Former commander of the Colombian Army General Mario Montoya attends a hearing at the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) court in Bogota, Colombia, September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's attorney general's office will charge former army commander General Mario Montoya for responsibility of 104 extrajudicial executions, as part of the "false positives" scandal, it said on Sunday.

The false positives took place between 2002 and 2008, during the term of ex-President Alvaro Uribe, when soldiers murdered civilians and registered them as guerrilla fighters killed in combat to receive benefits.

The country's transitional justice court (JEP) says at least 6,402 people were killed this way, but some victims' groups allege the numbers could be higher.

The accusations against Montoya, who is retired, relate to killings that took place from November 2007 and November 2008, including the deaths of five minors.

Despite orders from the defense ministry and military command to prioritize captures, Montoya, 72, did not pass them on and continued to incentivize combat deaths, for which he will be charged with multiple counts of aggravated homicide, the attorney general's office said.

"He continued to evaluate commanders by number of reported combat deaths," said an attorney general's office document seen by Reuters.

"General Montoya continued to exert pressure on all the country's commanders to comply with his policy of operational results, in which combat deaths were the only criteria for evaluating the campaign," the document added.

Montoya has previously denied committing the crimes he is accused of, while his lawyer, Andres Garzon, told local press the case is being investigated by the JEP and is therefore outside the attorney general's jurisdiction.

Montoya, who remains free, was commander of Colombia's army between 2006 and 2008. He submitted himself to the JEP in 2018.

Dozens of army officials have been arrested and convicted of involvement in the killings, with some appearing before the JEP to testify and receive lighter sentences than they would under the ordinary justice system.

The JEP was created under a 2016 peace deal to prosecute former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels and military leaders for alleged war crimes.

Under the ordinary justice system Montoya could be sentenced to up to 50 years in prison, but under the JEP he could receive a sentence of between five and eight years, which would not be served in prison.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Lisa Shumkaer)

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