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Dole Food sued over Colombian paramilitary claim

Dole Food Company is being sued by families of 57 people allegedly murdered by paramilitaries hired by the US firm to provide security at its banana plantations in Colombia, court records show.

A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles alleges Dole hired the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) despite the fact the group has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department.

Lawyers for families of the murdered people say the AUC was responsible for driving farmers off land used to plant bananas, purging leftist guerillas from banana-growing regions and targeting union leaders at banana plantations.

Dole hit back at the allegations in the lawsuit, decrying them as "bogus and baseless" in a statement.

"These recycled claims are as false today as they were when first lodged in 2007 and are the product of the most untrustworthy sources imaginable," the company said.

Dole's general counsel Michael Carter noted that the allegations had emerged during evidence provided as part of Colombia's Peace and Justice process.

"These terrorists have every reason to lie by making false allegations against international companies like Dole in order to minimize their own culpability and reduce their jail time," Carter said in a statement.

"This lawsuit is irresponsible and the allegations are blatantly false."

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Terry Collingsworth, alleged however that Dole had dealt directly with former AUC leader Carlos Castano.

The lawsuit alleges wrongful death, battery, assault, negligent hiring and supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

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Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:May 6, 2009
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