Colombia defense minister resigns amid pressure over bombing casualties

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said on Wednesday he would resign in the midst of mounting political pressure over alleged extrajudicial killings and the threat that Congress could force him out.

FILE PHOTO: Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero attends a news conference, in Bogota, Colombia May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

Botero, a 71-year-old businessman, has been battered by repeated scandals. This week a senator accused him of hiding information that children were killed in a recent bombing raid targeted at a dissident member of the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels.

Botero has said the operation was legitimate and the military was unaware there were minors in the camp. Eight children are believed to have died.

“It is my duty as minister of defense to have an appropriate read on the political climate, which is why I have decided to present my resignation,” Botero said in a letter posted on Twitter by the ministry.

Opponents say the alleged murder of two former FARC combatants at the hands of the military and a purported increase in human rights violations also showed Botero was unfit for his post.

In September the government was forced to defend a military report that it said proved the Venezuelan government supports guerrilla groups and drug traffickers, after officials admitted it contained uncredited photographs taken by media outlets in Colombia, not Venezuela.

Both left-wing parties and centrist groups that had previously backed Botero said they would support a motion of censure against him in Congress, which would have obliged the government of right-wing President Ivan Duque to remove him.

Duque does not have sufficient majorities in either house to protect Botero’s position with only the backing of his own party and the Conservatives. If Botero had been forced out, he would have been the first minister in the history of Colombia to be removed by censure.

A previous censure motion failed to pass the lower house in June when Botero did have centrist support.

Botero, charged with managing the Andean country’s fight against crime gangs, FARC dissidents and the still-active National Liberation Army (ELN), has held his post since the start of Duque’s administration in August 2018.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Leslie Adler