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Four Kuna leaders assassinated by Colombian paramilitaries

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PAYA, Darien - Approximately 400 indigenous adults and 200 children from various communities were forced from their home after a Jan. 18 attack on the province of the Darien, on the Columbia-Panama border that left several Natives dead.

The Autonomous Defense Units of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group attacked the villages of Paya and Pucuro. Reports claim that after the attack, only 50 residents remained in Paya. Leaders of the Kuna Paya village, Mayor Ernesto Ayalya, Second Mayor, San Pascual Ayala, and Village commissioner Luis Enrique Marinez were brutally assassinated. In addition, Gilberto Vasquez, mayor of Pucuro was found dead inside his home with a bullet in the back of his head. According to witnesses, the other bodies were found butchered by machetes with bullets to the head in the distant mountains, unable to be returned to the paramilitary- guarded village.

The assassinated men were medicine men, holders of the oral history of their people and the leaders of the Paya and Pucuro communities.

Reports state the attack also included the burning of houses and looting of food and other valuables. Local trucks were loaded with explosives and land mines planted so village members could not follow the group.

Many of the displaced village members are seeking refuge in Boca Cupe, and awaiting assistance from Panamanian authorities.

The AUC has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. The leaders of the group have been charged with trafficking more than 17 tons of cocaine into the United States and Europe since 1997.

The community of Paya is located approximately two hours from the Columbian border in the mountains of Pinogana. More than 530 indigenous residents are said to reside there.

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Included here is an official statement from the Indigenous Movement of Panama on the vicious attacks and the war against Indigenous peoples.

Dear brothers and sisters from various organizations and communities of the world that fight against violence, against war, and against hunger-today, we wish to mobilize against the war on indigenous peoples.

On Saturday the 18th of January four Indigenous Kuna leaders, were violently tortured and assassinated by the Autonomous Defense Units of Colombia (AUC). These Indigenous spiritual leaders, are medicine men that hold the principal knowledge of our oral history, poets of truth, knowledgeable in medicine, the holders of our cultural heritage, the soul of our community, and are the maximum authority of the Paya and Pucuro communities. Four pillars of our community have been killed, if we compare this to western culture it is to say that our library of congress, our chief justice of magistracy, our minister of culture, our Nobel Peace Prize winners were killed. In the past years paramilitaries have assassinated indigenous teachers in Panama and an Embera Indigenous child Maria Mecha Tocamo. This past Saturday (Feb. 8) 50 Colombian insurgents tore apart the Paya Community, closed in the community, asked for the indigenous authorities to present themselves and then took them outside the community to torture them, and slash their throats. Upon hearing the various detonations from the Paya community the paramilitaries fled leaving the Pucuro community in flames. This was all confirmed by the only survivor, who followed the paramilitaries for one hour, his throat slashed and his stomach openly bleeding, to solicit help from the Pucuro community.

Not stopping at the assassinations of the Indigenous authorities, the AUC, planted land mines surrounding the community to prevent the Kuna to leave. They took all of the food from the only food warehouse that existed in the community and threatened the population for supposedly collaborating with the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Since 1964 through 1998 there was a Cartel of the Armed Forces of Panama that safeguarded the lives of the Paya and Pucuro residents, but since then, although the Indigenous authorities have solicited support from the Police forces of Panama, they have been denied support to defend the borders in the Darien.

Now there are more than 700 people displaced, of the Paya and Pucuro Communities, the majority children, they are seeking refuge in Boca Cupe, who and are waiting for the Panamanian authorities to provide security for the area- not even one of the community members are prepared to abandon their ancestral lands.

As Kuna, we have lived more than 100 years on these lands, and now there is an intention to destroy the peace of our Indigenous communities, selectively assassinating Colombian and Panamanian Indigenous leaders. It is because of this that we are opposed and against the imposition of the FTAA, the Plan Puebla Panama, Andean Plan, and Plan Colombia that are policies to exterminate the communities of the Americas, to expropriate indigenous territories, our collective knowledge, oil, water, land and our cultural and biological heritage.

Ernesto Ayala, Maximum Authority, San Pascual Ayala; Secondary Authority; Luis Enrique Martinez, Spiritual Leader of the Paya and Gilberto Vasquez, Maximum Authority of Pucuro, now join the list of thousands of martyrs who have offered their lives for the liberation of the Indigenous communities of the world.