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TUESDAY, MAY 1, 2007

New witness in Drummond case
Judge approves testimony
in deaths of labor workers

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

BIRMINGHAM — A federal judge ruled Monday a union suing an Alabama coal producer over the killing of three labor leaders in Colombia can offer testimony from a newly discovered witness who claims the company was linked to a paramilitary group blamed in the deaths.

The Alabama-based Drummond Co. sought to bar jurors from hearing claims by Edwin Manuel Guzman. The former Colombian army sergeant contends the company was tied to paramilitaries that allegedly shot the men to death in 2001.

U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre overruled Drummond's objections that union attorneys uncovered Guzman's claims too late and should be prevented from presenting them at the trial, set for July 9. The labor group claimed it was unaware of Guzman's claims until reading about them recently in the Colombian newsmagazine Semana.

The judge said that while Guzman can testify, union attorneys must arrange for the company to question him before the trial.

The decision came as the United Steelworkers said it had asked U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to join the Colombian government in an investigation of alleged links between paramilitaries, Drummond and Drummond Ltd., the Colombian arm of the coal company.

The request cited a report last week by The Associated Press that a retired Colombian army colonel accused of conspiring to assassinate President Alvaro Uribe's most vocal critic worked for the U.S. Embassy two years ago. The retired officer, Julian Villate, is now employed by Drummond.

The Justice Department had no immediate response to the union's request. The Colombian government previously said it was investigating whether Drummond had links to paramilitaries.

Bowdre is presiding in a lawsuit filed in Birmingham in 2002 by the Colombian union Sintramienergetica against Drummond, which the union contends paid paramilitary gunmen to murder three labor leaders who represented Drummond employees at its mine in Colombia. The United Steelworkers are assisting the Colombian union.

The company has denied any involvement in the slayings, and chief executive Garry Neil Drummond has given sworn testimony that he gave "firm instructions" that the company would not deal with paramilitaries or other illegal groups in Colombia.

Guzman's claims could undercut Drummond's arguments, however.

In a two-page statement filed in court, Guzman said Drummond gave trucks and motorcycles to paramilitary forces that patrolled an area around Drummond mines. The company also provided them with food, he said.

The claims are similar to statements Guzman made to The Associated Press during a recent interview in Colombia.

"The Drummond people would bring us soldiers' food in styrofoam coolers and would continue on in the same SUV to deliver food to paramilitaries in lots of places there (around the mine)," Guzman told AP.

Guzman has been in a witness protection program in a case involving extrajudicial killings allegedly ordered by his former commander in the region.

He says paramilitaries would turn over corpses to members of his unit whom his commander would then register as guerrilla deaths.

Paramilitary gunmen murdered dozens of alleged rebel sympathizers in the region at the time. Guzman said the private militias were effective in helping stem rebel attacks against Drummond's coal trains heading for a Caribbean port.

Union attorneys want to use Guzman's testimony in the Alabama case to support claims of Rafael Garcia, a former Colombian security official who claims he saw a top Drummond official hand over money in exchange for the killings of union leaders in Colombia.

Court documents show Drummond attempted to get the U.S. State Department to intervene in the lawsuit in an apparent bid to have it thrown out, but the government refused.


AP writer Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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