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FARC massacre of indigenous in Columbia, more deaths and displacement

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In the first week of February, according to indigenous witnesses, Columbian FARC rebels massacred up to 27 Awa people in the southern Narino province, including women and young children (from ages 3 to 6), bringing the total number of murdered Native people to 50 since the national march in the fall.

FARC press statements have only acknowledged the “execution” of eight indigenous due to their alleged assistance of Columbian military, but witnesses deny that figure and the assertion that the Awa willingly assisted anyone.

Indigenous leaders, along with the United Nations and the European Parliament are urging Columbian authorities to carefully investigate this incident and other killings including the murder of the husband of an indigenous activist by Columbian military.

The National Indigenous Organization of Columbia, ONIC and regional UNIPA, Indigenous Unity of the Awa People, issued a joint statement the week after the massacre, decrying the murders.

“The UNIPA and ONIC denounce the grave violation of human rights and the collective rights of the Awa people of Narino, which is nothing new. … in the last 10 years [in the AWA territory] there have been four massacres, approximately 200 murders and 50 people affected by antipersonnel mines (land mines). … and now 1,300 Awa people are trapped in the area due to confrontations between the army, the guerillas and the para-militaries.” Their apprehensions were echoed by the UN and EU releases.

“The United Nations expresses its most profound concern over the situation of the Awa people, whose living conditions have deteriorated in the last years as a consequence of the violence that affects their reservations, to the point that it puts the survival of their culture in danger,” stated the UN press release.

The European Parliament (the body of elected officials from the European Union) sent an official letter to Columbian President Alvaro Uribe Feb. 19, where they urged him to allow an international commission of observers to investigate the Columbian army’s murder of the husband of indigenous leader Aida Quilcue Vivas and to “carefully investigate the recent massacre of indigenous Awas and. … pay due attention to the assertions made in the recent National Mobilization (Minga nacional).”

Columbian authorities have not publicly responded to any of these entreaties, and instead they have pledged to protect the Awa and, as of late February, had troops searching the area for evidence of the massacre and for rebels.

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“The government is designing a special plan for Narino. … is going to create a Joint Command, with a base in Pasto; it’s going to mount a brigade and make some changes to the army so as to have a greater presence in the area,” according to a Defense Department statement.

In their press releases, FARC memos stated that they support the indigenous, but not those who conspire against them and they acknowledge the killing of eight people.

“…in the Rio Bravo site, in the town of Barbacoas, Narino, our guerilla units detained 8 people that had recovered. … information about us so as to then take that information to military patrols that were developing operations in that area,” according to the statement. “Due to their responsibility for the deaths of numerous guerillas and their undeniable active participation. … they were executed.”

However, indigenous testimony gathered by ONIC and UNIPA about the incidents do not coincide with either the governments or the FARC’s accounts.

The ONIC press release of Feb. 12 states the following: “After Feb. 1, the presence of the military was noted in the reservation (of Barbacoas), with them entering homes in an abusive manner and compelling, through different means of abuse, members of the community to give information on the location of the FARC-EP guerillas, exposing the community to a situation of impotence and fear.”

“On the 4th of February,” the testimony continues, “armed men of the FARC rounded up 120 people (men, women and children), who were tied up and taken to a ravine known as el Hojal, and it was observed that some of those people were assassinated with knives. … these same men returned the next day to remove children from the houses.” (As of late February, the bodies of most of the missing have not been recovered.)

While re-stating the total number of those killed was 27 and that they want the warring parties to leave them alone, Native activists are also asserting the killings are connected to development plans by national and international businesses (legal and illegal) interested in owning that part of southern Columbia where the Awa and other peoples live. Indigenous leaders along with scholars such as Anthropologist Efrain Jaramillo have asserted that specific agribusiness and mining businesses are actively seeking to possess Awa land; they point to the fact that 110 mining permits have been sought since July 2007 in that same area.

Joining with ONIC and UNIPA, the well-respected Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca issued several press statements as well, including the following assessment of the Awa massacre in the ACIN’s presentation called “Why They Kill the Awa:”

“The Awa people struggle for their dignity, lives and the life of their territory. They are exterminated for the sake of insatiable greed. Although it is important and urgent to know who committed this terrible and unpardonable massacre, so that justice may be served, to make known the truth and respect those affected and their families, even more important is to understand that they were massacred to strip them from their territories. That is why we must denounce and mobilize to resist the project served by terror against our sisters and brothers. Today, the project kills in order to steal.”