Shadowy trail that leads to London

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The Independent Online
Sources in Bogota say a key figure in the campaign against BP is a Colombian exile, Asdrubal Jimenez Vacca. Jimenez is known to be the leading member of the London-based Colombian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) and to have helped journalists covering the story.

The CHRC, using a post-box address in south London, has worked with the Colombian Refugee Association (CORAS) in the campaign against BP. Funded by charitable donations and a subvention of pounds 24,000 a year from the London Boroughs Grants Unit, CORAS offers welfare and advice. Its director, Virgilio Zapata, a trade unionist and teacher who fled to the UK four years ago, says CORAS has 6,000 people on its books. "Most belonged to legal political parties and left Colombia because of persecution by the paramilitaries and the army. We try to avoid connection with guerrillas. They have representatives around the world, in Switzerland, Sweden, France - but in London, no." Naming Jimenez as his counterpart in the CHRC, he added: "Mr Jimenez is the person who is dealing with the media. He is a human rights activist. He has no guerrilla links."

The evidence suggests otherwise. Although Jimenez is a lawyer and worked from the mid-1980s as legal adviser to a legitimate agricultural trade union, he afterwards - if not before - became actively involved at a senior level in the EPL.

In 1988 he was shot by unidentified gunmen, and in 1991 arrived in London for hospital treatment. It is believed that he then became the political representative in Europe of the EPL's dissident wing, which opposed a decision to accept amnesty and the ballot box. That year he played a leading part as EPL's representative at ceasefire talks between the CGSB and the Colombian government in Caracas, Venezuela.

When telephoned at Praxis, a human rights organisation based in a church in London's East End, Jimenez agreed that he worked with CORAS. He said: "The organisation for the campaign against BP is our organisation." But when asked whether he had been in the EPL or represented it, he replied: "No, no, no." He then said he didn't understand, and asked for a personal meeting which so far has not proved possible to arrange.

Colombian press reports, a captioned photograph taken at a press conference and BBC monitoring of broadcasts confirm his role in the Caracas talks and his link within the CGSB to other guerrilla leaders. In one of the reports he is described as "the EPL commander".

In November last year Rev Vaughan Jones of Praxis chaired a meeting, organised with Jimenez and the CHRC, on "BP in Colombia; human rights, environment and internal conflict". He says Praxis is not part of the coalition against BP but is concerned with forced migration. Rev Jones added: "Anyone working in relation to Colombia is on a knife edge between contradictory realities and hidden agendas, and has to keep an eye on the principal human rights issues."