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04 May, 2018

Colombia: missing social leader, mother of five, found murdered

Maria del Carmen Moreno Paez, 45, was last seen alive – bound hand and foot – in a video which went viral across social media.

After five days of searching, police in Colombia have found the body of 45-year-old social leader Maria del Carmen Moreno Paez in Arauca, authorities confirmed Wednesday. Her death was confirmed by Municipal Government Secretary of Arauquita Nelson Perez, who said: "The body was found half-buried in a farm next to her property."

A mother of five and president of the local action board, Moreno's murder is being mourned by many in her native Arauquita Indigenous community. She was actively involved in a number of environmental development programs.

"This situation is very distressing to the community and the municipal government, so they asked the authorities to advance investigations to establish those responsible for this crime and be punished to the extent of the law," Mayor Renson Martinez Prada said.

After raiding the family farm, a group of men kidnapped Moreno early Friday morning. She was last seen alive, bound hand and foot in a video which went viral across social media.

Her captors claimed to be members of a paramilitary offensive, the United Self-Defense Group, and demanded a ransom of US$35,000 be paid within 24 hours in order for her safe return. Investigators contradicted the kidnappers' claim, stating they were most likely part of a common criminal group because there is no paramilitary presence in the Arauca department.

Social leaders marched alongside community residents to demand her release. Mayor Martinez Prada even offered a reward for anyone who could provide information regarding Moreno's whereabouts.

"We categorically reject this vile murder that the heart of the Arauquita people mourn today, those who pleaded for this woman's freedom," the mayor said in a statement.

Following Moreno's death, District Governor Ricardo Alvarado Bastene called an extraordinary security council to address the wave of kidnappings which have occurred across eastern Colombia.

Almost 500 social leaders called on the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, requesting the organization introduce precautionary measures to safeguard the lives of Colombia's human rights defenders, "especially in areas most affected by armed conflict."

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