Army Abusing Indigenous Groups in Choco

News from Colombia | on: Saturday, 26 July 2008

A communiqué released by five of Colombia's principle indigenous groups has documented how soldiers of the 'Manosalva Flores' Battalion of the Colombian Army are terrorising an indigenous community in the department of Choco. The community, based in hills next to the highway linking Choco's capital Quibdo to the city of Medellin, has also criticized the activities of a mining company that is operating in the area.

In one of the incidents documented, a local indigenous man Ricardo Tequia, was attacked and beaten on July 3rd by soldiers under the command of a Sergeant Hernandez. Mr Tequia, who was fishing when the troops assaulted him, was called a 'guerrilla' and told that he would be killed if he did not reveal the names of indigenous people in the area who supported the guerrillas.

In another incident on July 20th near the village of Dieciocho, soldiers under the command of the same Sergeant opened fire on three indigenous people; Crisanto Cheche Campo, Amelia Estevez Vitucay and Wilson Tequia, a child. Although none of them were hit Ms Estevez Vitucay was injured when she fell off some rocks whilst trying to avoid the gunfire. The child, Wilson Tequia, ran away and got lost although the community suspected that he had been taken by the troops.

In response a large number of indigenous people from the surrounding villages blocked the highway demanding that the child be returned. In response Major Cardoso, also of the 'Manosalva Flores' Battalion, said that his men would shoot them all if they did not lift the blockade. The child was found shortly afterwards and further violence was averted.

According to residents the Army constantly accuses people living in the area of being guerrilla supporters and says that they are helping to hide a local guerrilla unit. They add that crops and the forests in the surrounding hills are being badly damaged by a mining company that is present in the area; "Compania Cordillera Exploraciones Mineras S.A.".

The statement concludes by asking for a verification mission to visit the area to investigate the behaviour of the Army and the mining company. The statement was signed by leaders of the Embera, Wounaan, Katio, Chami and Tule indigenous groups, all of which are present in Choco.

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