Colombian defense minister resigns over air strike cover-up claims
South America;Colombia
Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero attends a news conference in Bogota, Colombia, September 19, 2018. /VCG Photo

Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero attends a news conference in Bogota, Colombia, September 19, 2018. /VCG Photo

Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero resigned Wednesday amid mounting political pressure after he faced accusations of trying to cover up the deaths of several children in a military air strike on a drug trafficking gang.

Botero announced his resignation after a meeting with President Ivan Duque. He faced a censure motion in Congress over the alleged extrajudicial killings.

"Today, in a meeting with the president of the republic to analyze the current political situation, it was agreed that the most suitable thing was to resign from the position of minister of national defense," he said in a statement.

Botero, a 71-year-old lawyer and businessman, has been battered by repeated scandals. He has also been criticized for his limited security experience, even as he oversees defense in a country with a half-century record of armed conflict and which is plagued by drug trafficking.

That criticism reached a fever pitch when an opposition senator accused Botero of a cover-up in the deaths of 14 people, including eight children, who were revealed to have died in a strike targeting dissidents from the now-dissolved Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) armed group, which signed a peace deal with the Colombian government at the end of 2016.

Botero had previously claimed that the operation was legitimate reporting only nine dead, stating at the time that he and the military were "unaware of the presence of minors" and suggesting that all involved were combatants recruited by the guerrillas.

"It is my duty as minister of defense to have an appropriate read on the political climate, which is why I have decided to present my resignation," Botero said in a letter posted on Twitter by the ministry.

Opposition politicians and social organizations have also called into question inaccurate information reported by Botero concerning the death of the former FARC guerrillas killed by the army on the border with Venezuela at the end of October.

Some say the episode was a catalyst for subsequent violence that broke out in the troubled coca-producing department of Cauca in the southwest, where 16 individuals, mostly indigenous people, were killed last week.

In September the government was forced to defend a military report that it said proved the Venezuelan government supports guerrilla groups and drug traffickers, after officials admitted it contained uncredited photographs taken by media outlets in Colombia, not Venezuela.

Both left-wing parties and centrist groups that had previously backed Botero said they would support a motion of censure against him in Congress, which would have obliged the government of right-wing President Ivan Duque to remove him.

Duque does not have sufficient majorities in either house to protect Botero's position with only the backing of his own party and the Conservatives. If Botero had been forced out, he would have been the first minister in the history of Colombia to be removed by censure.

A previous censure motion failed to pass the lower house in June when Botero did have centrist support.

Botero, charged with managing the Andean country's fight against crime gangs, FARC dissidents and the still-active National Liberation Army (ELN), has held his post since the start of Duque's administration in August 2018.

Source(s): AFP ,Reuters