Colombia: mine opponents assassinated

Cesar García, a campesino leader who opposed the mining operations of AngloGold Ashanti at La Colosa in the central Colombian department of Tolima, was assassinated Nov. 2 by an unknown gunman as he worked his small farm at the vereda (hamlet) of Cajón la Leona. Supporters said he had been targeted for his work with the Environmental Campesino Committee of Cajamarca, the local municipality. In a statement, the Network of Tolima Environmental and Campesino Committees said the Cajamarca group had been "stigmatized as enemies of progress in the region," and falsely linked to the guerilla movement. The statement noted a growing climate of fear in the area.

Colombia: gains seen as peasants end strike

Colombian campesinos on Sept. 10 ended their national strike after more than two weeks, and lifted the road blockades they were still maintaining, chiefly in Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo and elsewhere in the south of the country. The organization coordinating the strike in this region, the National Agricultural and Popular Table of Dialogue and Accord (MIA), agreed to recognize a pact already won in talks between the government and campesino organizations in Boyacá, Cundinamarca and elsewhere in the central region of the country. United Nations observers who had been brought in for the dialogue process confirmed that all protest roadblocks had been dismantled. (EFE, Sept. 11; El Tiempo, Bogotá, Sept. 7)

Colombia: indigenous to open dialogue with FARC

Indigenous leaders in Colombia's Cauca department last month exchanged letters with FARC commander Rodrigo Londono AKA "Timochenko" AKA "Timoleón Jiménez" to discuss a face-to-face dialogue over guerilla aggression against native peoples. "Timochenko" wrote to indigenous leaders on May 13, appealing to them "to reach understandings that will allow us satisfactorily to advance towards our mutual goals of peace and social justice." He denied recent accusations by native leaders that  the FARC is complicit in the "genocide of the indigenous" of Cauca, and broached a personal meeting. The indigenous leaders reponded on May 16 with an open letter accepting the invitation to direct dialogue, but adding: "However, our communities want to see the dialogue does represent changes to our conditions; that you stop killing, accusing and dividing us." The letter protested the FARC's accusation that the indigenous leadership are a "counterinsurgency force."

Bogotá, FARC reach deal on land reform

Negotiators from Colombia's government and the FARC rebels on May 26 signed an agreement on agrarian reform, the first and reportedly the hardest of three issues that must be tackled before a final deal to end nearly 50 years of civil war. In a joint press conference, the two negotiating teams said they had reached full agreement on points including "access and use of land," "non-productive lands," "formalization of property," and the "agricultural frontier and protection of reserve zones." Accords were also announced on technical assistance and credit for poor farmers. The pact calls for creation of a "Lands for Peace Fund" into which millions of illegally held or underused hectares will be placed for eventual redistribution to landless peasants and displaced populations. The negotiators said the deal will lead to "radical transformations of Colombia's rural and agrarian reality with equality and democracy." The remaining two issues are political participation and drug trafficking. (Colombia Reports, LAT, El Colombiano, Colprensa, May 26)

Colombia: peace talks advance amid violence

"Pablo Catatumbo," commander of the FARC guerillas' feared Western Bloc, was picked up by a Red Cross helicopter in Colombia's southwestern town of Palmira April 6 to join fellow guerrilla leaders who are in Cuba meeting with the government to negotiate peace, according to local media. Neither the government nor the FARC have either confirmed or denied Catatumbo's trip. With the arrival of Catatumbo, the FARC delegation in Havana now includes three of the guerillas' seven-man secretariat. To allow the safe arrival of Catatumbo and five other rebel leaders in Palmira, the army temporarily suspended military operations in the department of Valle de Cauca, military intelligence sources told Caracol Radio. (Vanguardia Liberal, Bucaramanga, April 7; Colombia Reports, RCN Radio, April 6)

Colombia: indigenous peoples face 'extinction'

The Andean Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI) and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) on March 15 jointly presented a report to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) warning that 65 the 102 indigenous ethnicities in Colombia are now at risk of cultural or physical "extinction." The report noted that Colombia's Constitutional Court has ordered special protection for these 65 peoples, but asserted that risks posed by the armed conflict and lawless resource extraction on their lands have not abated. The report charged that violations of indigenous rights are not merely "collateral damage" in the ongoing civil conflict, but often an actual aim of armed actors.

Colombia: guerillas free captives

After tense negotiations, the Red Cross transported to safety Feb. 15 two Colombian National Police agents being held by the FARC guerillas since Jan. 25. The release had been delayed due to large groups of journalists in the vicinity of the drop-off point according to leader of Colombians for Peace (CCP), Piedad Cordoba, who helped broker the negotiations. The armed forces had ceased military activity around Miranda in the southwest Cauca department to provide safe passage for the Red Cross. The humanitarian mission will next fly to Pasto to secure the release of a soldier captured by the FARC on Jan. 31 during clashes in southern Nariño department. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 14)

Colombia: FARC assassinate indigenous leader

Charging a "Plan of Extermination" by all actors in Colombia's armed conflict, traditional indigenous authorities in southwest Cauca region on Jan. 22 protested the "assassination" two days earlier of Nasa indigenous leader Rafael Mauricio Girón Ulchur at the village of Jámbalo. The statement said Girón had been ambushed while riding his motorcycle, and that the gunmen were FARC guerillas who fled into the bush after the slaying. The statement charged that he had been targeted for advocating a "Plan of Life" based on indigenous territorial rights, self-determination and protection of natural resources as an alternative to the peace plan being worked out by FARC and government negotiators in Havana, Cuba. It noted that the assassination came the same day that the FARC officially declared an end to the unilateral ceasefire instated for the Havana talks. (ACIN, Jan. 22)

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