Indigenous Leader Killed, Afro-Colombians Disappeared

News from Colombia | on: Friday, 23 May 2008

One person has been murdered and at least five others disappeared in a heavily militarised area of Choco department on Colombia's Pacific Coast. Though only one body has been found, reports from the remote Bajo San Juan region where the crimes took place, suggest that the disappeared individuals may also have been murdered.

Ovidio Malaga, whose body has been found, was a leader of the Wounaan indigenous group and had previously served as Governor of their reserve – known as Puerto Pizario – which was shared with Afro-Colombian communities.

On May 21st Mr Malaga left his home to visit his brother along with Mr Rodrigo Lopez, an Afro-Colombian friend and neighbour. Neither man returned home, and Mr Malaga's body was found yesterday at 2pm near the village of Agua Clara. Mr Lopez has not been seen since and is feared to have been killed along with Mr Malaga.

Other reports yesterday stated that a further four, or possibly five, Afro-Colombian residents of the Puerto Pizario Reserve/Bajo San Juan region also disappeared at around the same time. Due to communication difficulties it has so far been impossible to confirm their names or further details.

Although it is not yet clear who is responsible, the regional indigenous organisation, ACIN, has reported that, "this is a military zone, completely controlled by the security forces". In a separate communiqué the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia, ONIC, has pointed out that there are several military bases in the area including one located inside the territory of the Puerto Pizario Reserve.

In November 2007, Justice for Colombia reported on how six Catholic Bishops based in dioceses in and around Choco had issued a statement blaming the Colombian State for violating human rights in the region. Their statement can be read here:

In January we also reported on an army offensive in the same region:

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