Fighting and Harassment Reported in Cauca
News from Colombia |
on: Tuesday, 17 April 2012
Human rights defenders of the Francisco Isaias Fuentes network have reported several instances of abuses of international humanitarian law during military operations in the region of Cauca.
On Sunday 11 March 2012, they report units of the 3rd infantry battalion of the 3rd army brigade, under the command of Ricardo Jimenez Mejia entered the settlement of Cocorna in Piedritas. In the village they proceeded to enter peasant’s homes without permission, accusing them of being members of the guerrilla militia, taking particular interest in looking through inhabitant’s mobile phones.
On Saturday 31 March, units of the same brigade entered La Garza where they forced their way into the home of Rosero Alvarez, and began interrogating the family’s 14 year-old daughter. The Alvarez family is well known in the area, as leading members of the ASTRACAVA agricultural workers’ union and since one of the family was a Democratic Pole candidate for the municipal council in last year’s elections.
On Wednesday 11 April troops in la Moralia, Tulua tore down a banner hanging outside the union offices which was advertising an upcoming ‘Patriotic March’ for peace.
In the Miranda region of Cauca, in the village of Calendaima at 1.20am villagers reported an “indiscriminate attack” by two helicopter gunships accompanied by another military aircraft. These craft machine gunned and bombed the area. Later troops were deployed and there was heavy fighting in and around the village between troops of the Apollo Joint Task Force under General Jorge Humberto Jerez and guerrillas of the Gabriel Galvis mobile column of the FARC.
Villagers accuse the army of using peasant homes as firing positions during the fighting, in which two homes, those of Andrea Quique and Fabio Zamorano were damaged. The intense fighting forced the local population to displace thanks to the “disproportionate action by the Colombian state”, and 45 families, totalling 164 people were forced to leave the area.
On Friday 13 April in the village of El Palo near Caloto in Cauca, southern Colombia, Gerardo Barona Avirama, a local human rights defender left the village heading for another nearby settlement. Mr Barona is a villager of El Palo, and a member of the local branch of FENSUAGRO, as well as an activist in the Patriotic March. Troops have repeatedly asked other villagers about his activities, his location and personal details. As he passed a military checkpoint in the middle of the village some minutes later he was stopped by troops of the 14th Mobile Brigade, who asked him for his identification.
Mr Barona passed over ID showing his identity as a human rights defender, and the soldier proceeded to write down the details (which is illegal). Mr Barona protested and an officer was called over. The officer retained the documents and radioed for a check to be made, asking Mr Barona why he was organising meetings calling for the military checkpoint to be removed. In reply Mr Barona stated that the existence of a military post inside the village was an infraction of international humanitarian law, since it exposes the civilian population to the conflict, putting them at risk.
The officer then became enraged, and other soldiers began shouting, before Mr Barona’s documents were finally handed over and he was allowed to go on his way. This action has been reported as an act of psychological intimidation and slander, and of limitation of freedom of movement by troops against the inhabitants of El Palo, in particular against the members of organisations such as trade unions and human rights organisations.
The reports show that the military situation continues to create victims, with civilians bearing the brunt of military operations that continue to disrupt normal life and force families to displace. It also shows how the activities of human rights workers and other social activists are stigmatised and severely hampered by the military.