BOGOTA, Colombia — Suspected paramilitary gunmen executed 21 unarmed residents of a small town in an oil- and cocaine-producing region near the Venezuelan border Thursday, officials said.
The shootings by the men, most in camouflage uniforms, occurred in two poor barrios of Tibu, said Ruben Sanchez, the local delegate of the federal human rights ombudsman's office. Police confirmed his account.
"They came and dragged the people from their homes and massacred them right in front of their families," Sanchez told Associated Press by telephone from the town of 15,000 residents in Norte de Santander state.
Witnesses said there were nine assailants, eight of them in camouflage and one in civilian clothes, Sanchez said.
The victims were shot repeatedly; 19 died immediately and two died later at hospitals, said a Tibu police official who asked not to be named. Five people were seriously wounded.
The killings bore the trademark of rightist paramilitary groups, who routinely massacre villagers they accuse of collaborating with leftist guerrillas, the official said.