Fear for Civilian Population in Cauca Department
News from Colombia |
on: Thursday, 14 February 2008
Military operations allegedly being carried out in collaboration with a paramilitary death squad in the Colombian department of Cauca are putting the lives of residents at risk according to local human rights organizations.
Reports from the area state that members of the 8th 'Batalla de Pichincha' Infantry Battalion of the Colombian Army's 3rd Brigade, are allowing paramilitaries to operate freely in and around the town of El Palo in the municipality of Caloto. Witnesses claim that the paramilitaries have a checkpoint outside the temporary camp that the soldiers have established and that civilians are being detained and interrogated by them. The paramilitaries, who are uniformed, heavily armed and wearing balaclavas, have repeatedly asked about the whereabouts of community leader Victor Manuel Ariza. Mr Ariza has been the victim of numerous paramilitary death threats in recent years.
Despite the fact that the town of El Palo and is outskirts are heavily militarized large numbers of paramilitaries have been seen in the area. According to a local human rights group at least five vehicles (three small trucks and two jeeps) full of heavily armed and uniformed paramilitaries) were seen patrolling the town at 2am on February 1st.
In another part of Cauca department a potential humanitarian crisis is threatening several remote rural communities after the military cut all communications into the region. On February 9th hundreds of troops entered the communities of Ventura, la Esperanza, el Ceral and el Naya, in the municipality of Timba. The soldiers, who claim to be looking for a FARC guerrilla column that is allegedly in the area, blocked the only road into the area cutting off the entry or exit of all food, medicine and other supplies.
Those principally affected are peasant farmers, indigenous people and Afro-Colombian communities – all of whom, according to the Permanent Committee for Human Rights, have reported that the soldiers are treating civilians in an abusive manner.
Concern has been raised that actions carried out by the troops during their last incursion into the area may be repeated. At that time, in late December, at least five people were killed. In one case, on December 31st, soldiers outside the village of Ventura massacred three local peasant farmers and shot at distraught family members who were trying to retrieve their bodies.