Army Attacking Civilians in Cauca Department

News from Colombia | on: Friday, 28 March 2008

Human rights groups have reported that two Colombian Army units are carrying out systematic human rights violations in the southern region of Cauca. Cases of torture, harassment, arbitrary detention and physical attacks have all been documented in recent days in what locals describe as a continuing Army offensive against the rural farming and indigenous communities in the area.

The most recent attacks against the civilian population have occurred in the municipality of Miranda where soldiers of the 57th Counter-Guerrilla Battalion and the 8th 'Batalla de Pichincha' Infantry Battalion have been accused of terrorising the residents of various communities including Cajones, Las Dantas, La Mina, Los Alpes, Los Hornos and Monteredondo. Peasant farmers, and/or indigenous people, make up the majority of the residents in all of the villages.

Cases documented include a March 16th attack on peasant farmer Rafael Talaga Rivera on the outskirts of the village of Horno at approximately 8am. According to human rights groups soldiers stopped Mr Rivera and brutally beat him whilst accusing him of supporting the FARC guerrilla group. He was stripped naked by the troops who then beat him further and forced him to remain naked for four hours despite extremely cold temperatures. Investigations have shown that the soldiers responsible were under the command of a Colonel Diego Guarin.

Four similar cases also occurred on March 27th when soldiers detained and physically abused local residents Jose Libardo (President of the Community Action Council in the village of Cajones), Jose William Pardo, Duvan Casamachin and Raul Grisales Dagua (an indigenous man). All four men were also accused of being guerrilla supporters.

Other abuses occurred on March 22nd in the village of Los Alpes where troops forced their way into an indigenous assembly meeting brandishing a list of names of people that they said were guerrilla fighters. According to those present the list included the names of all those belonging to the local human rights associations whilst the name at the top was regional trade union leader Jose Elmer Gutierrez. Three days later the troops returned and carried out several raids on homes in the neighbouring village of Monteredondo during which they threatened to kill residents, accused the community of being guerrilla supporters and burnt mattresses, blankets and other items that they pulled from various homes.

Human rights groups also say that the indiscriminate use of mortars, hand grenades and other weapons by the soldiers is putting lives in danger in the area. A local trade union activist has alleged that the death threats, raids, detentions, beatings, destruction of property, killing of livestock and use of schools and other civilian buildings as military posts, are tactics aimed at forcing the civilian population to flee the area.

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