Written Answers. - Human Rights Abuses.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

280 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts which are and will be made to protect an Irish priest and his community in Colombia (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19784/00]

Nora Owen

Question:

290 Mrs. Owen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the plans he has to ensure the safety of an Irish priest (details supplied); if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a massacre took place in the community with which this priest works in Columbia; the action his Department has taken to raise international anger at the situation in Columbia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20140/00]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 280 and 290 together.

By bearing witness to the atrocity committed at La Union, San Jose de Apartado, Department of Antioquia, in north west Colombia on 8 July, Fr. Brendan Forde has helped to raise awareness of the terrible violence which has been afflicting that country for a very long time, and which has even further intensified during the past decade.
In my initial statement following the events at La Union, I emphasised the necessity for all concerned to make a commitment to respect human rights and to engage in the peace process initiated by President Pastrana of Colombia.
I raised the situation of Fr. Forde and the peace community at La Union with the Colombian Foreign Minister, Dr. Guillermo De Soto. We have also been in contact with EU resident embassies in Bogota and with the US State Department. Prior to President Clinton's recent visit to Colombia, the Taoiseach sent him a message setting out our concern about La Union. At the Millennium Summit in New York, the Taoiseach met President Pastrana of Colombia and, against the background of hopes for the peace process, expressed our concern that everything possible should be done to ensure the safety of Fr. Forde and the people of La Union. Subsequently, our Ambassador based in Mexico City visited Bogota to present credentials on a secondary basis there. President Pastrana personally confirmed to him that an investigation into the 8 July killings is well under way. The investigating commission was set up following consultation between the Colombian vice-President, who has special responsibility for human rights, and representatives of the peace community, with the participation of the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace. Investigators from the offices of the Attorney General and State Prosecutor visited the area. The Bogota office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was also involved.
During his visit to Bogota, our ambassador was also informed that additional security measures requested by the community at La Union are also in hand. These include road repairs, better lighting and radio links.
My Department will continue to monitor the situation at La Union as well as the progress of the investigation against the background of the efforts being made to advance the peace process in Colombia.