At least 1,741 civilians have been executed since 1984 by police and military in Colombia, to be presented later to their superiors as rebels killed in combat in order to obtain economic benefits, medals or promotions, a report released by a non-governmental organization says.

This was revealed in the document "Debt to Humanity: 23 Years of False Positives," prepared by the Popular Education and Research Center, or Cinep, an NGO of the Jesuit community.

The report warns, however, that the number of 1,741 slain is only an "approximation" since "many victims remain lost in the silence of the victims and the silencing of their families and because the mechanisms of impunity make it impossible to identify all the cases that occurred."

It also said that most "false positive" cases, as this type of extrajudicial execution is known in Colombia, occurred between 2005 and 2008, a period coinciding with the mandate of rightist President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), who made military action against the rebels a national priority.

With Colombian politicians and the military brass demanding results in the war against leftist guerrillas, inflating body counts became a way for troops to earn promotions, bonuses and extra leave.

The great scandal of the "false positives" came to light in 2008, when the press reported that the bodies of at least 11 young people with no ties at all to the rebels and living in the poor municipality of Soacha outside Bogota had been presented in the northeastern part of the country as guerrillas killed in combat.

The revelation of such extrajudicial executions led to the dismissal of 27 soldiers, all of them from the regions where the murders occurred, and the later resignation of then-commander of the army, Gen. Mario Montoya.

Though Cinep rules out that these extrajudicial executions were carried out as government policy, it does not consider them to have been isolated cases.

In that sense, it recalls a 2009 report by the United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Phillip Alston, who said that the practice of "false positives" was "carried out in a more or less systematic way by a significant number of elements in the army."

He added that in the first six months of 2011, under the government of the current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who had committed himself publicly to the defense of human rights, eight cases have been revealed with a total of 17 slain.

The provinces with the greatest incidence of the phenomenon are, according to the report, Antioquia in the northwest with 393 victims documented since 1988, followed by the central province of Meta with 114, Huila in the southwest with 110, the northeastern province of Norte de Santander with 90, and Santander in the northeast with 86.