Asuncion, Paraguay- The Argentine government and human rights organizations reiterated that Paraguay is required to fully investigate the killing of two 11-year-old girls by the national security forces in an operation against the left-wing Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) a year ago.
The Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday expressed deep concern over the “deaths” of Argentine citizens Maria del Carmen Villalba and Lilian Villalba.
The cousins were killed in an operation near the town of Yby Yaú in northeastern Paraguay on September 2, 2020 by the Joint Task Force (FTC), a national security agency established to combat EPP. Protests took place in Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay on Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of this event.
These killings marked the beginning of an escalation of violence between the armed forces and the EPP, a small armed group. The state attributed the deaths of more than 70 civilians and military personnel to the group and classified it as a criminal organization.
The operation in September 2020 was initially hailed as “success” by President Mario Abdo Benítez. He immediately flew to the scene and took photos with the staff. He did not take action to challenge media reports that the two “women who were knocked down” were EPP leaders; only a few hours later, it was confirmed that two children had been killed.
Aníbal Cabrera, head of Paraguay’s Coordination Group for Children and Adolescents’ Rights (CDIA), stated that the state had taken action to conceal the truth of the killings, pointing out the misinformation provided about the girls’ age and that they were quickly buried in In unidentified graves, clothing and other evidence were quickly burned in the case of abuse of the COVID protocol.
Cabrera told Al Jazeera: “In the few hours after the girl was murdered, a series of irresponsible actions by the State Attorney’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission made the Paraguayan country completely untrustworthy.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay refuted Argentina’s claims that the agency’s behavior was opaque.
However, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed serious concern in February. Apart from failing to take action to clarify the 14-year-old child who disappeared in December 2020, he did not carry out independent investigations into these two deaths. survey. Carmen Oviedo Villalba Sr. (Carmen Oviedo Villalba), another child who has connections with EPP members. A report by the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch pointed out that there were serious violations in the actions of the Paraguayan authorities.
Two other girls who managed to escape from the 2020 FTC operation told the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions that Maria del Carmen and Lillian were captured alive and later executed.
Laura Taffetani, a member of the Argentine Bar Association, a human rights organization that provides legal support to girls’ families, told Al Jazeera that these minors had traveled from Argentina to Paraguay to spend time with their parents. They are members of the EPP. .
“It’s terrible. I think this often happens in Latin America: some countries claim to be democratic, but they implement real terrorism, in this case infanticide,” she said.
The Paraguayan government has repeatedly rejected this claim, claiming that the girls were taken into armed groups as part of the system of recruiting child soldiers.
Cabrera said that if they were recruited, the authorities would have failed to fulfill their duty of protecting and rescuing them.
“Whenever the country faces forced recruitment of young people in the north, it either murders, tortured or kidnap them,” he said.
The deaths of these two girls started a period of intensified conflict in northeastern Paraguay. On September 9, 2020, former Vice President Óscar Denis was kidnapped from his ranch, which is considered to be a retaliatory blow by EPP against the death of the girl. Dennis has not been released yet.
In July, EPP and two other self-proclaimed left-wing insurgents carried out at least seven kidnappings and attacks, including the bombing of a military truck, resulting in the death of three soldiers.
Cristina Coronel of the Bureau of Peace and Justice (Serpaj) said that local civilians are the main victims of the conflict, and that both the insurgents and the Federal Trade Commission have reportedly severely violated human rights in the local community.
The deteriorating situation has sparked fierce debate about how to deal with armed groups in impoverished and violent areas, which are also centers of drug cultivation and trafficking.
Although Interior Minister Arnaldo Giuzzio pushed for a substantial increase in the FTC’s budget, others criticized the continued existence of the specialized department and called for alternative solutions.
Coronel said: “At this point, we believe that with all their equipment and all the expenditures involved in the FTC, there should be a positive result: all armed groups in the region should be eliminated.”