Colombia: indigenous communities targeted in war —again

Indigenous communities in Colombia's southwestern department of Cauca issued a statement May 11 calling upon all armed fighters to leave their territory, following the intensification of clashes between FARC guerillas and the army that left many civilians injured, displaced, or dead. "We have been left alone in the midst of the bullets of legal and illegal armed groups," said Miller Correa, indigenous governor of the resguardo of Tacueyó, Toribío municipality.

The escalation in confrontations between government forces and a FARC column under commander Jacobo Arenas began around May 1, and have primarily affected the indigenous and rural populations around the pueblos of Tacueyó, Los Chorros, Buenavista, San Diego, El Triunfo de Toribio, El Palo, and Caloto.

Indigenous authorities report that three civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting: Jaime Ilamo Escue, 26, in Caloto; Patricia Noscue, in San Diego; and Luz Edith Taquinas Ipia, 18, in El Triunfo. In addition, these battles have left another seven civilians injured, and over 180 families displaced.

Rafael Coicue, from the Association of Indigenous Councils of Norte del Cauca (ACIN) told the Bogotá weekly Semana May 10 that the indigenous communities have tried to reach an understanding with the FARC. "They have always been here, you cannot deny that," he said. "The indigenous authorities have asked that they respect the people, that the do not recruit children, and that they are allowed to pass through the territory, but not to stay in it. They cannot access the schools, nor any meeting sites for the indigenous people, nor lay minefields. That was the protocol, and occasionally they would respect it."

But this changed, according to Coicue, in November 2009, when the Colombian army launched a new offensive against the FARC in Cauca. "After that, they didn't take any recommendation into account," he said of the FARC. "The guerillas told us that we were in war, and everything they did was an act of war." (El Tiempo, Bogotá, Colombia Reports, May 11; El Tiempo, Semana, May 10)