Paraguay's president on Monday defended an emergency decree that temporarily suspends some civil rights in the north of the country. "I want to make it clear, extremely clear, that no constitutional right is suspended with this measure," President Fernando Lugo said, according to the state-run news agency.
"It's important to clearly understand that while the central objective is to install a climate of security and normalcy, the operational objective is to allow the military participation in armed tasks, something that would not be possible without the exception," Lugo said of the measures, which went into effect Monday.
The emergency measure, in effect for 30 days, will make it easier to crack down on the leftist Paraguayan People's Army, or EPP by its Spanish initials. The law bans public gatherings and gives police the power to make arrests without warrants.
To quiet criticism, Lugo said that human rights offices will be opened in the five states where the emergency decree applies. These will closely monitor the operations and take any complaints of human rights violations that critics say could happen. The emergency measure was enacted in the agricultural provinces of Alto Paraguay, Presidente Hayes, Concepcion, San Pedro and Amambay.
It follows the killing of three civilians and a police officer by suspected EPP fighters on Wednesday. A military general will be in charge of a joint operation that will include national police and all branches of the military, Lugo said.
"Not only do we seek to locate and dismantle the members of the EPP, but also the various organizations that carry out illegal operations in these regions, like drug trafficking," he said.
The EPP has been accused of a series of kidnappings and attacks on police and military posts in recent years.
Paraguay, a country of nearly 7 million people, is nestled between Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. It is among the poorest countries in South America.