Five Supreme Court justices met with President Belisario Betancur shortly before security forces stormed the Palace of Justice last Thursday and pleaded with him to save the lives of their colleagues being held hostage inside, according to one of the judges present.
The judge, Jose Alejandro Bonivento Fernandez, said Betancur rejected the magistrates' appeals for flexibility and told them that any chance of talking to the guerrillas had disappeared. The siege by leftist M19 guerrillas was then in its second day.
An hour later, Army and police commanders launched their final assault on the masonry structure. About 100 persons, including 11 of the Supreme Court's 24 justices and about 35 guerrillas, died in the two-day siege.
"We appealed to the president to defend the lives of the justices," Bonivento told reporters today at the funeral of one of the dead magistrates. "But he said there was no opportunity for dialogue."
The judge described Betancur's appearance during that emergency conference as "worried, nervous and tense." Also present, the judge said, were the secretary general of the presidency and the ministers of justice and education.
Numerous questions remain about the efforts the government made to negotiate with the guerrillas before authorizing the assault on the courthouse. Justice Minis al command after a weekend of mourning, the government today announced that it would be pressing Congress to pass some economic and social reform legislation that had been stalled.
Betancur also signed extradition orders for two women wanted in the United States on charges of cocaine trafficking, Bertha Yolanda Paez Gonzalez and Evidaliny Garzon Escobar.
The United States has about 80 drug-related extradition requests pending against Colombians, and although Colombian authorities have cooperated in the drug war, Betancur has been slow to act on a number of the extradition cases already cleared by the Supreme Court. The two he signed today had been passed to him with court approval in February and March.