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BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The head of Colombia's army was promoted Wednesday amid an outcry over an order he issued that has stirred fears of a return to serious human rights violations.
The nation's Senate voted almost unanimously in favor of making Gen. Nicacio Martínez a four-star general, though a faction of detractors refused to vote.
The promotion came as human rights groups clamored for Martínez to step down after revelations that he ordered troops to step up attacks on leftist guerrillas and criminals.
They are voicing concerns that the order could led to a repeat of the "false positives" scandal during the height of Colombia's conflict with leftist rebel groups. Troops were accused of killing innocent civilians and disguising them as guerrillas so they could earn extra pay.
Documents from the Colombia prosecutor's office show Martinez signed off on questionable payments to informants during that time. In one purported combat operation, an indigenous civilian and a 13-year-old girl was killed. A court later convicted two soldiers for abducting them from their home, murdering them and putting weapons on their bodies so they appeared to be rebels.
Martínez has said he had "no idea" if he had made the payments. But records indicate he signed off on at least seven other questionable payments.
"The promotion of Gen. Martínez Espinel conveys the troubling message to the troops that serious allegations of human rights violations are not an obstacle for career success," Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said after the Senate voted.