Eight Colombian soldiers have been sentenced to 60 years each in prison after being found guilty of the murders of four farmers who they had claimed were "guerrillas killed in combat."
A court in the municipality of Yarumal, in the north-western department of Antioquia, handed down the sentences, the maximum permitted under Colombian law, to a former lieutenant and seven soldiers of the Atanasio Girardot Battalion.
The incident occurred in March 2006 in the village of Tobon, when the soldiers claimed that the four victims had been killed in a gun battle between the army and guerillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). However, evidence accepted by the court demonstrated that John Edison Galeano Barrientos, Jesus Alberto Londoño Arroyave, Dario Rodriguez and Juan Morales, had been dragged from their homes and executed with a shot in the back.
A statement released by the Attorney General’s office said that the prosecution had “proved beyond reasonable doubt that the victims were taken by force from their homes and that there was no fighting”.
The case is the latest in the so-called "false positive" scandal, in which members of Colombia’s armed forces have been accused of murdering hundreds of civilians. The victims were then accused of involvement in rebel activity by soldiers who were keen to increase their body counts in an attempt to attain rewards and promotions. There have been over 2,000 documented cases of this practice, resulting in the imprisonment so far of almost 100 members of the armed forces.