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LATIN AMERICA

Colombia horrified by massacre of workers

Ten farm hands killed by gunmen in Santa Rosa de Osos, a town in Antioquia department

The scene where 10 people were shot dead in Colombia.
The scene where 10 people were shot dead in Colombia.RAUL ARBOLEDA (AFP)

Painful memories of Colombia's past bloody paramilitary violence resurfaced last week after gunmen lined up 10 farm workers and shot them dead just as they finished their day's work in the fields. Body parts were scattered about after the gunmen threw a grenade on top of the victims, according to reports from the authorities.

The tragedy, which shocked the entire nation, took place on November 7 at a farm in Santa Rosa de Osos, a town in Antioquia department, about an hour away from Medellín, Colombia's second-largest city.

According to family members of the victims, three gunmen gathered the field workers in front of the main house and asked them if they had paid extortion money. When they failed to answer, the assailants opened fire. The nine men and one woman had been working in the area for many years, mostly picking tomatoes; some of the victims were related.

Only one worker survived the massacre having played dead during the shooting and somehow managing to escape from being torn apart by the exploding grenade.

Only one worker survived the massacre having played dead during the shooting

"This is hell," said one official when he arrived at the site of the massacre to help gather the bodies for burial.

The killings occurred at a farm known as La Española Tres, which is owned by a man who also runs 17 other tomato farms in the region and employs about 1,500 field workers.

Once word got out about the tragedy, farm owners around Santa Rosa de Osos ordered all their workers to abandon the area. There were also reports that some employees were being threatened if they didn't leave. On Thursday, some 200 workers arrived in the town and were put up in emergency shelters, which were closely guarded.

Multi-million reward

Government authorities issued a 50-million-peso reward (about 21,000 euros) for information leading to the capture of the gunmen.

Initial findings by investigators show that the massacre may have been the work of Los Rastrojos, one of the most powerful criminal gangs in the country.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said that killings could be revenge for the successful law-enforcement offensives in the area. Some days before, Pinzón said that one of Los Rastrojos' leaders, known as "Jorge 18," was captured by authorities; he didn't rule out the murders being in retaliation for the arrest.

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