Colombia's indigenous communities at risk: report

Armed conflict and forced displacement persist as threats for Colombia's indigenous peoples, according to a new report by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). Threats, attacks, killings, forced recruitment, sexual violence and torture remain common in indigenous territories, the group said. One of the most disturbing figures in the report is that between May and June this year 2,819 members of the Dobida Embera community in the western department of Chocó were displaced due to clashes between the ELN guerillas and Urabeños paramilitary force. The UN had previously said that at least 300 locals were forced to flee due to the violence. The report charges: "Despite the orders given by the Constitutional Court of Colombia regarding the protection of at least 64 indigenous people they continue to be at high risk for physical and cultural extermination. This is due to the armed conflict and forced displacement. The nature of the violations reaffirms the ineffective protective measures of the national and international bodies involved."

Colombia: Chocó indigenous leaders assassinated

The president of the Indigenous Organization of Chocó (OICH), Ernelio Pacheco Tunay, was assassinated Sept. 12 at the Embera Dobida indigenous pueblo of Bacal, Alto Baudó municipality, in Colombia's Pacific coastal department of Chocó. Pacheco was detained by armed men while traveling in a boat along the Río Nauca; his body was found nearby several hours later. The following day, Miguel Becheche Zarco, president of the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Alto Baudo (ACIAB), was similarly taken by armed men while traveling along the same river; his body was found near the community of La Playita. Local indigenous leaders are pressing authorities for action, and protest that no investigators from the Fiscalía, Colombia's attorney general, have yet arrived in Alto Baudó. The municipality is the scene of ongoing conflict between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Urabeños paramilitary group. Both groups have threatened indigenous leaders for demanding their right to non-involvement in the conflict. On Sept. 16, an ELN communique said the two indigenous leaders had been detained by their fighters under "due process" (sic) and confessed under "interrogation" to being government informants, an implicit admission of responsibility in their deaths. (Radio Caracol, RCN Radio, Sept. 16; communique from indigenous organizations, online at Choco.org, Sept. 15; El Colombiano, El Espectador, Sept. 14)

Colombia to get truth commission

In the ongoing peace talks in Havana, Colombia's government and the FARC rebels agreed June 7 to set up a truth commission that addresses the deaths of thousands of people in five decades of the country's conflict. Both sides pledged to take responsibility for victims, a break with the longtime practice of blaming each other. The FARC also announced a ceasefire from June 9 to 30, to allow the presidential run-off elections to move ahead. The group had previously declared a week-long ceasefire around the period covering the first round of elections on May 25, in which the hardline Oscar Ivan Zuluaga won more votes than other candidates, but fell far short of the 50% needed to avoid a run-off. Zuluaga criticized the truth commission agreement, insisting that the FARC to admit to being the main culprit of the violence of the past generations. "The FARC rebels are the primary victimizers in Colombia, with all the murders and terrorism they have committed in all these years of massacres," he said at a campaign stop in Huila.

Colombia: protest, rebel attacks depress oil output

Colombian crude production sank to a 20-month low of 935,000 barrels per day in April as guerilla attacks and community protests curbed output. Technicians from parastatal Ecopetrol were barred for over a month by indigenous protesters from repairing the Caño-Limon pipeline after it was damaged in a March 25 guerilla attack. Ecopetrol was forced to declare force majeure on at least 25 delivery contracts due to the stoppage. U'wa indigenous at Toledo municipality, Norte de Santander, agreed to lift their blockade May 1 after the Mines & Energy Ministry agreed to suspend  the nearby Magallanes gas exploration project to evaluate its environmental impacts and to despatch a team to demarcate the boundaries of U'wa territory. But the very next day, the pipeline was blown up again, at Cubará muncipality, Boyacá. The first attack was attributed to the FARC rebels, now in talks with the government. The second one was blamed on the ELN guerillas, which may be hoping to pressure the government to similarly open talks with them. There were 33 pipeline attacks in the first quarter of this year and a total of 259 in 2013. (UDW, May 28; El Tiempo, May 8; InfoSur Hoy, Bloomberg, May 6; EBR, May 5; Reuters, May 2)

May Day mining disaster in Colombia

An unknown number of miners—perhaps as many as 40—were buried alive as an illegal gold mine collapsed late on the night of April 30 at El Palmar, in Colombia's southern department of Cauca. Local campesinos spent May Day volunteering with Santander de Quilichao municipal brigades in a desperate effort to unearth the victims—none of whom are believed to survive. Thus far, only three bodies have been recovered, according to local Red Cross workers. Local residents said the "owners" of the mine were able to escape, but it is still unlcear exactly who they are.

ELN bomb Colombia oil pipeline infrastructure

The "Comandante Diego" Front of Colombia's second largest rebel group the ELN detonated explosives Jan. 1 at four crude-oil holding pools along the Caño Limon-Coveñas pipeline at Convención in the Norte de Santander department. A large blaze caused by the attacks created panic among the local population, who were forced to flee their homes, according to local media reports. Authorities are taking measures to prevent further environmental damage after the attacks, as well as reconstruct the damaged holding pools. The ELN  has been coordinating with the FARC in attacks on Colombia’s oil production infrastructure for the past few months, declaring war against multinational oil companies operating in the country last November. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 2; Radio Caracol, Jan. 1)

Report breaks down FARC military strategy

Colombia's oldest rebel group FARC has undergone significant changes concerning military strategy since entering the ongoing peace talks with the government, according to a new report. The report by think tank Fundación Paz y Reconciliación which was partly released in national newspaper El Espectador on Dec. 17 revealed how the rebel organization changed their military strategies, adapting to the rhythm of this year's peace talks. "In September and October when the negotiations were in a crisis due to a lack of progress concerning the point of political participation, [the FARC] launched a minor offensive, attacking the oil and energy infrastructure that left Tumaco 20 days without power. This shows that the operational capacity of the FARC is not that decimated," the report was quoted in El Espectador.

Colombia: kingpin named in Trujillo Massacre

The Fiscalía, Colombia's public prosecutor, on Dec. 9 formally charged a notorious drug kingpin for masterminding several massacres between 1988 and 1994 in which hundreds of people were killed. The crimes, dubbed the Massacre of Trujillo after the town where they were committed in Valle del Cauca department, resulted in the deaths of up to 342 people. Among the victims were unionists, alleged guerrilla supporters, and a priest. Some of the victims were tortured and dismembered as a warning to rebel groups FARC and ELN, and their sympathizers. Diego Montoya AKA "Don Diego" is accused of conspiring with members of the army, police, regional politicians and paramilitary groups aligned to the infamous Cali Cartel. Several members of the security forces have also been charged for their alleged role in the killings.

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