Threats, Blockades and Disappearances in Putumayo Region

News from Colombia | on: Saturday, 21 February 2009

More than a thousand civilians are registered as having disappeared in the Colombian region of Putumayo according to the Colombian Attorney General's office who also say that in recent days they have received a further 400 complaints from the region mainly from the municipalities of La Hormiga and Puerto Asis. Paramilitary death threats against Putumayo community leaders and a military blockade that is preventing food from reaching large parts of the region have also contributed to a sense of panic that is now gripping the region.

At least 280 bodies have also been found in mass graves dotted around the region though most of the victims were thought to have been killed between 2000 and 2008. "A combination of factors is making life in Putumayo very difficult right now and it would be fair to say that much of the civilian population is terrified," one local leader told Justice for Colombia.

Reports from the region suggest that throughout January and most of February, Colombian Army and Navy units had blockaded a large part of the region including rural communities the municipalities of Puerto Asis, Puerto Leguizamo and San Miguel. The military claim that they are trying to prevent supplies from reaching FARC guerrilla units that are active in the region which makes up much of Colombia's southern border with Ecuador where the guerrillas are particularly strong.

Residents also report that soldiers are stealing food from peasant farmers in the region and that they have taken cattle from some areas accusing the peasants of helping to provide food to the guerrillas.

Several well-known inhabitants of Putumayo are also thought to be in grave danger after a paramilitary death threat, dated January 13th, arrived by fax at the offices of the Permanent Committee for Human Rights in the neighbouring region of Narino. The threat mentioned by name two local doctors, Jose Victor Perez and Luis Carlos Ortega, community leader Carlos Andres Laverde and local councillor and former mayor of the Putumayo community of Valle del Guamuez Artemio Solarte.

The threat said that all four men were now military objectives and accused them of being FARC guerrilla supporters. The director of the Permanent Committee for Human Rights in the region, Javier Dorado Rosero, has called on the Colombian State to provide guarantees that the four men will be protected and to investigate the origin of the threat but as of writing no action had been taken.

For previous articles on the situation in Putumayo see:

December 2008 Thousands Murdered in Southern Colombia

November 2008 Army Murders Peasant Farmer Leader in Colombia

August 2008 Union Vice-President Killed

March 2008 Soldiers Assassinate Two Trade Unionists, Disappear One

January 2008 Colombian Army Mobile Brigade Murders Two Peasant Leaders

September 2007 Three trade unionists assassinated by Colombian Army

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