Peru court frees two Colina death squad members as imprisonment deadline expires during trial

Peru’s anti-corruption court released two former  Colina death squad members, currently on trial for murder and kidnapping, after the accused completed six years in prison without being convicted because of snail-paced legal proceedings.

The ex military officers, Douglas Arteaga and Ángel Pino Díaz, are currently on trial for belonging to the Colina group death squad, for murder, kidnapping and their involvement in the 1991 Barrios Altos massacre.

In 1991, the Colina group machine-gunned 15 people, including an 8-year-old boy, in the courtyard of a tenement building in Lima’s Barrios Altos district.

“How is this decision possible?” said Rosa Rojas, the mother of 8-year old Javier Ríos Rojas and widow of his father, Manuel Ríos, both murdered by the Colina group.

“I can’t believe it, I don’t even know what to think of my country’s justice,“ added Rojas, in comments to daily La Primera. “No one is safe. Imagine what these assassins are planning now that they are back on the streets.”

Arteaga reportedly told government agents – who later planned the Barrios Altos intervention – that the barbecue taking place in the tenement building’s courtyard was designed to raise funds for the Shining Path, and that high-level guerrillas were to be in attendance. Arteaga was later rewarded for providing the intelligence.

“Former Colina group members have repeatedly testified that Pino Díaz was part of the nucleus of the Colina group,” said Gloria Cano, an attorney with one of Peru’s most respected human rights organizations, Aprodeh. “He also joined the ranks of other groups tied to the elimination and disappearance of people since the beginning of the armed conflict,” she added.

According to Peruvian law, prisoners must be freed after 32 months in jail if they have not been convicted. In this particular case, the court extended this set time frame to six years, due to the violent nature of Arteaga’s and Pino’s alleged crimes.

The legal proceeding began in 2005, and a verdict is expected for 2009.

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