Army Murders Husband of Indigenous Leader

News from Colombia | on: Thursday, 18 December 2008

The husband of one of Colombia's most high profile indigenous leaders was assassinated on Tuesday by soldiers in the latest in a series of killings of indigenous people by the Colombian Army. Edwin Legarda was shot dead as his wife, Ayda Quilcue, travelled back from Geneva, Switzerland, where she had presented a report on human rights violations against indigenous communities to the UN Human Rights Council. Army commanders and the Colombian President, Alvaro Uribe, responded to the killing by claiming that the victim had failed to stop at an Army checkpoint but it subsequently became clear that this was not in fact true and that he had simply been shot dead.

Mr Legarda was driving an official vehicle of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), of which his wife is leader, early on the morning of December 16th when soldiers opened fire on him. The vehicle, which was well-known in the area as it had been assigned to the CRIC leadership, was hit 17 times killing Mr Legarda and wounding a nurse who was travelling with him. They had been on their way to the city of Popayan, the capital of Cauca department, to collect Ms Quilcue who was returning from Geneva.

Opposition parties, human rights groups and indigenous organisations reacted angrily to the assassination with some speculating as to whether Ms Quilcue had in fact been the intended target. "I think the attack was aimed at me", Ms Quilcue, who has received numerous death threats from army-backed paramilitaries, told journalists. Opposition Senator Alexander Lopez described the incident as an "extrajudicial execution" whilst the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC) released a statement describing the actions of the Army as a "criminal attack".

In response to the allegations, the regional Army commander, General Eliseo Pena, appeared on television claiming that his men had only shot Mr Legarda after he had failed to stop at a checkpoint. His version was backed by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos, before it became clear that there had not been a roadblock in the vicinity and the military had, essentially, been lying in order to attempt to deflect condemnation.

A statement issued today by the office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights strongly condemned the killing, said that the UN were concerned "that the shots were fired indiscriminately" and reiterated that there had been no Army roadblock. Jose Domingo Caldon, a senior CRIC official, went a step further by telling reporters that he believed that the murder was in fact an ambush by troops of the 'Jose Hilario Lopez' Battalion of the Colombian Army. Witness statements appear to back this up.

On the same day as the murder Ayda Quilcue had been due to address a large meeting of indigenous peoples from around Cauca to report back on what had taken place in Geneva and plan the next steps in their ongoing campaign to highlight violations against indigenous communities in the region. The campaign took on national significance during October and November when Quilcue and other leaders mobilised tens of thousands of indigenous people in a huge protest that culminated with a march from Cauca to the Colombian capital Bogota.

For an in-depth report on the incident from the Inter Press Service click here.

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