The State of the World's Children 2000

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Panel 5 - Seeds of peace: Young people in Colombia

The rural town of Aguachica Cesar in eastern Colombia has been in the crossfire of conflict between guerrillas, the paramilitaries and the Colombian army in recent years. In 1996, Juan Elias Uribe, then a 14-year-old boy who lived there, became convinced nevertheless that peace was possible and that young people could help bring great changes to his country.

Juan Elias is one of many teenagers in Colombia and thousands around the world who bring the idealism and intense energy of their adolescent years to a cause. Juan Elias's cause was peace. The more he talked publicly about peace in his country, the more certain he became that it could be had.

His father, a dentist and a respected member of the community who often led public health campaigns in poor areas of the town, was proud of his son's peacemaking efforts and let it be known. One morning, Señor Uribe was in his office with his 19-year-old niece, who hoped to become a doctor one day. Three men strode into the dentist's office and barged into the exam rooms. Gunshots rang out and the men exited quickly. Señor Uribe and his niece were found lying in a pool of blood, and both died several hours later.

Murders are common in Aguachica and killers are rarely caught. But this one was different - Señor Uribe was a popular public figure. Community members came forward to identify the killers, who were arrested and jailed for two years but never brought to trial. "They've never told us why they did it," a saddened Juan Elias says of his father's assailants. "Sometimes people in Aguachica don't talk about why things happen."

 
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