Tuesday, February 17, 2009

FARC Retaliates Against Awa Indians by Taking 120 Hostages

Latin American Herald Tribune
Published February 17, 2009

Colombia FARC Takes 120 Indians Hostage

BOGOTA -- A total of 120 Awa Indians were taken hostage last week in southwestern Colombia by presumed leftist FARC insurgents, who killed at least eight of the captives, two indigenous rights organizations said Wednesday.

The members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel army also returned for the children who had been left alone in their homes, although it remains unclear what happened to those youths and how many of them there were, according to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, or Onic, and Indigenous Unity of the Awa People, or Unipa.

In a joint statement released in Pasto, the capital of Nariño province where the abductions and killings occurred, the two associations offered details on the murder of eight Awa Indians and the disappearance of nine others.

Onic and Unipa said the mass abduction occurred Feb. 4 within the limits of the Tortugaña Telembi reservation, located amid jungle-clad mountains near the town of Barbacoas, and was carried out by "armed men with FARC emblems."

The kidnapped Indians "were taken with their hands tied to he so-called El Hojal stream of the El Bravo (indigenous) community," the statement said, adding that witnesses saw the insurgents kill "some people with knives."

The FARC guerrillas returned the following day for the children who had been left alone, but "we don't know what happened to them," the statement said.

New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, said Tuesday on its Web site that 17 Awa Indians were killed and called on "the national, state, and local governments to take immediate action to provide assistance to the displaced population and victims, to protect the civilian population in Nariño, and to ensure that all abuses in the region, by all armed groups or forces, are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted."

HRW also said the Office of the Ombudsman of Colombia had issued a report prior to the kidnappings alerting authorities that "civilians in the region were at risk" because the FARC suspected the Awa of cooperating with the army and a rival insurgent group.

It urged the Colombian government to improve its response to such warnings.

Onic and Unipa, for its part, did not say if those Indians taken captive were still being held by the insurgents.

They said the Awas believe the guerrilla incursion was in retaliation for supposed support the Indians have lent military troops who have entered their territory.

The rebel presence has left some 1,300 Awas "confined," or cut off from the outside world, according to Onic and Unipa, whose leaders met Tuesday in Pasto to analyze a crisis whose antecedents date back to the past decade, always related to Colombia's long-running internal armed conflict.

According to the two associations, some 200 Awas have been killed since the 1990s, with several of the deaths occurring in four separate massacres. Another 50 have been killed by landmines, while many more have been arbitrarily detained, kidnapped, threatened or recruited by illegal armed groups.

Fighting in that region has led to mass displacement of the Awa population, including cases of cross-border migration due to the bi-national Colombo-Ecuadorian nature of the Awa ethnic group, the statement added.

They said these communities also have suffered blockades and their property has been confiscated by the different armed actors in Colombia's civil conflict.

The Onic and Unipa also said last week's abductions and killings coincided with fighting between the Colombian army and the FARC between Feb. 5-7.

But the army's Cali-based military division, responsible for security in Nariño, said there have been no armed clashes in recent months in the 24,960-hectare (96-square-mile) expanse of the Tortugaña Telembi reservation. EFE

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