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The murders of two advocates for victims of paramilitary abuses are a major blow to the credibility of Colombia’s paramilitary demobilization process, Human Rights Watch said today.

Yolanda Izquierdo, leader of the People’s Housing Organization (Organización Popular de Vivienda) in the department of Cordoba, was assassinated on January 31 after receiving repeated death threats. Izquierdo had represented hundreds of victims at the demobilization hearing of paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso. Another victims’ representative from Cordoba, Freddy Abel Espitia, was assassinated on January 29. And two weeks ago in the department of Bolivar, the Turbaco office of the League of Displaced Women (Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas) was set afire.

“These murders are clearly intended to intimidate victims and witnesses and prevent them telling the truth about paramilitary abuses,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Victims will find it harder than ever to trust the safeguards set up by the government to facilitate their participation in the demobilization process.”

Human Rights Watch urged Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguarán, to ensure a prompt and thorough investigation of the killings and to strengthen the protection of victims and witnesses participating in the demobilization process.

Human Rights Watch also called on President Álvaro Uribe to commit himself publicly to end any benefits to paramilitary groups or leaders that are found responsible for these crimes.

“These deaths bring into question the credibility of the whole paramilitary demobilization process,” said Vivanco. “It is crucial that those responsible are quickly brought to justice.”

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