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U.N. experts concerned Colombia fighters in Honduras

Supporters of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya hold a giant Honduras flag during a protest outside the hotel where members of the Organization of American States (OAS) mission are staying in Tegucigalpa October 8, 2009. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human rights experts voiced concern on Friday at reports that former paramilitaries from Colombia had been recruited to protect wealthy people and property in Honduras after that country’s military coup.

The U.N. working group on the use of mercenaries said “information available to date” suggested that land-owners hired 40 former members of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia as guards after violence erupted between supporters of the de facto government and backers of deposed President Manuel Zelaya.

They also cited reports that 120 paramilitaries from several neighbouring countries had been brought in to support the late-June coup that has triggered Central America’s worst crisis in years.

“We urge the Honduran authorities to take all practical measures to prevent the use of mercenaries within its territory and to fully investigate allegations concerning their presence and activities,” the five independent experts said in a joint statement issued in Geneva.

Honduras has signed an international convention barring the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenary fighters, noted the group members: Shaista Shameem of Fiji, Najat al-Hajjaji of Libya, Amada Benavides de Perez of Colombia, Jose Luis Gomez del Prado of Spain and Alexander Nikitin of Russia.

The experts also raised concerns about “allegations of discriminate use of long-range acoustic devices” by police and mercenary forces to harass Zelaya and his supporters who have taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay