Civil Society, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Latin America & the Caribbean

COLOMBIA: Rebels Kill Awa Indians as Army Informants

Constanza Vieira*

BOGOTA, Feb 25 2009 (IPS) - A local group of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas acknowledged that it had killed eight members of the Awá indigenous group, who it accused of being army informants.

Displaced Awá in El Diviso. Credit: UNHCR/M. H. Verney

Displaced Awá in El Diviso. Credit: UNHCR/M. H. Verney

In the view of indigenous rights activist and economist Héctor Mondragón, the guerrillas were badly mistaken in treating the case “as an individual problem.”

The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) said the killings were committed on Feb. 6 in the municipality of Barbacoas in the southwestern Pacific coastal province of Nariño, which borders Ecuador.

The army reported that 10 days later it found a body in an advanced state of decomposition, in the Barbacoas village of Tangaral.

According to General Leonardo Barrero, commander of the 27th army brigade, the body was surrounded by more than 50 landmines, which he said were put in place “with the objective of harming the indigenous people looking for the body to bury it.”

Local sources received unconfirmed reports of 35 people killed, while Awá authorities estimate that at least 17 people were killed in at least two different incidents.

The FARC Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre Column said the eight Awá Indians it killed “gathered, in groups, information on us to take to the military patrols carrying out operations in the area,” and “carried out explorations to locate the guerrillas and then the army patrols would come in and give us a beating.

“They have been working this way with the army for two years now,” the FARC added in the statement.

The communiqué also said that the killings were not specifically targeting “indigenous people, but people who received money for putting themselves at the service of the army in an area that is the objective of a military operation.”

In the small Nariño town of El Diviso, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Craig Johnstone visited 300 Awá Indians who had fled their homes in the wake of the massacre committed in the Tortugaña-Telembí reservation, a two day walk from El Diviso.

After listening to the accounts of the displaced persons, Johnstone strongly condemned the “reported grave violations of international humanitarian law.”

“It is not true that the security forces are using indigenous people as informants,” said Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos, who denied that the Awá Indians formed part of the government’s network of informers, one of the most highly publicised facets of its national security policy.

Regardless of whether the accusations against the Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre FARC Column are true, it is indisputable that the peaceful Awá indigenous community has been caught in the crossfire in Colombia’s decades-old civil war.

“The Awá are victims of genocide, a process that can be followed event by event over the last few years,” Mondragón told IPS.

“Those who believe that the enemy is being combated ‘without ethnic differences’ run up against the indigenous people and end up contributing to the ‘ethnocide’,” he said.

Of Colombia’s 42 million people, 1.4 million are officially counted as members of 102 different indigenous groups.

In a July 2008 sentence, the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) warned of “the imminent danger of physical and cultural extinction faced by 28 indigenous groups,” and said their disappearance would amount to “genocide,” although it did not specifically use that term in regard to the Awá.

The PPT, which investigates and tries human rights violations around the world, is the successor to the Russell Tribunal, which in the 1960s investigated war crimes committed during the 1965-1975 Vietnam War, and in the 1970s investigated crimes against humanity committed by U.S.-backed dictatorships in Latin America.

Although the PPT’s verdicts are non-binding, they are based on international law and legal precedent and take into account the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. The definition of impunity used by the PPT was adopted by the United Nations.

In the case of Colombia, the PPT assessed the benefits reaped from the war by 27 transnational corporations and six national companies with close ties to foreign firms, while assessing the impact of the activities of foreign corporations on the rights of indigenous people.

According to Mondragón, the Awá territory “is coveted by the traditional speculative large landholding sector, because the value of the land will climb as a result of the IIRSA (Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America) megaproject.”

In that area, IIRSA plans to communicate Colombia’s Pacific coastal region with the Putumayo river, a tributary of the Amazon river that runs into the Atlantic ocean. Works are to be carried out along the Putumayo to facilitate navigation.

In addition, “Kedahda (a subsidiary of the AngloGold Ashanti mining company) is after gold in the area, and the ‘parapalmeros’ are after land,” he added, referring to investment by the international mining industry on one hand and investment in oil palm plantations by far-right drug trafficking paramilitary groups on the other.

Mondragón said the war is displacing rural indigenous and black communities “from economically strategic areas…which has given rise to juicy business deals for those who are winning the war by grabbing land and stomping on rights.”

“Refusing to interpret things from that strategic perspective amounts to collaboration with the plunder,” he maintained.

*This article is part of a three-part series about recent killings of eight Awá people by the FARC.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags