Nasa Indians in southwest Colombia are at the centre of a violent standoff between the army and left-wing guerrilla army the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).
The Indians, formerly known as the Paez, have attempted to evict both the soldiers and guerrillas from their land, asking that they ‘take their conflict elsewhere’.
Cauca, in the Colombian Andes, is a FARC stronghold, and violence has plagued its indigenous residents for years. Countless Indian leaders have been killed by both sides in the many decades that the conflict has continued.
According to President Santos the army’s presence in the region ‘is not negotiable,’ but the Nasa say it only brings more conflict to their home.
Last week hundreds of indigenous protestors marched to the FARC’s camp to demand they leave the area, and threatened to force them out if they refused.
The Indians subsequently surrounded the army base to demand the soldiers step down from their post.
The protest turned violent on Wednesday when the army fired shots in the air, and protesters forcibly carried soldiers from the base. Police later fired tear gas, forcing protesters to flee.
Several people were injured, and a protestor is reported dead.
A letter posted on Cauca Indian Organization ACIN’s website says, ‘We do not want the guerrillas present, nor the army, because this has been our territory since time immemorial. We don’t need the guerrilla present because they do not bring us peace… the guerrilla do not protect us from the security forces’ abuse.’
Survival has written to President Juan Manuel Santos asking his government to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible to end the threat against the Indians’ lives.