Former minister killed in Colombia election violence

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The Independent Online
COLOMBIA'S presidential election campaign was thrown into turmoil yesterday after a former defence minister was shot dead in the capital, Bogota.

Retired General Fernando Landazabal Reyes, 76, defence minister in the early Eighties and adviser to presidential candidate General Harold Bedoya, was walking alone from his apartment to his office in northern Bogota when two men pulled alongside in a red car, and shot him three times in the head. The car was later found abandoned nearby.

General Bedoya is running a distant fourth in the 31 May presidential election, which has already been marred by a series of killings, bomb blasts on candidates' offices, left-wing guerrilla attacks and massacres by right-wing paramilitary. But despite having little chance of the presidency, General Bedoya has become an influential political figure through an aggressive campaign.

As General Landazabal's body, covered by a sheet, lay on the pavement yesterday morning, Colombia's army commander General Hugo Galan said the killing could have been the work of any of various sides in Colombia's violence. "Subversives [left-wing guerrillas] could be behind it. Private justice could be behind it," he said.

There was immediate widespread speculation that left-wingers may have killed the conservative retired general in retaliation for last month's assassinations of a leading human rights lawyer and a former communist party activist. Many Colombians believe right-wing "death squads," possibly linked with the armed forces, were behind those killings.

General Landazabal, defence minister of President Belisario Betancur in the early Eighties, was sacked in 1984 after publicly opposing proposed peace talks between the Betancur government and Marxist rebels.

Yesterday, he was walking from his home to his office as he did every morning. He had stopped using bodyguards many years ago, friends said. Shortly before 8am, neighbours heard four shots, saw the retired general slumped on the pavement and saw a red car screech away.

"This act is part of the escalating violence that is attempting to destabilize the electoral process by means of ideological crimes and radicalize positions against peace," President Ernesto Samper said after the murder.

Mr Samper was badly tainted by accusations that he received funds from the Cali cocaine cartel during his 1994 election campaign, and is not running on 31 May. Andres Pastrana, a former mayor of Bogota, is the clear front-runner, although short of the 50 per cent vote needed to avoid a head-to-head run-off next month with the second-placed finisher.