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Nasa people say Colombian bloodshed must end

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 30th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The indigenous Nasa people, located in the southwest Cauca region of Colombia say that they have had enough. For nearly 50 years, the Colombian army and guerillas have used their home as a battle ground in a conflict that does not involve them. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The town of Toribio in particular has been hardest hit by the nonstop fighting. Toribio has been attacked more than 500 times in the last 10 years. People here shrug off shootings and bombings as a part of daily life. A bus bomb killed four and destroying hundreds of houses last year, prompting the indigenous leaders here that it was time to take action. 

"We decided we didn't want to pay anymore the price of a war that has nothing to do with us," indigenous leader Feliciano Valencia says. "We asked to open a dialogue with the government to no avail, so we decided it was time to act."

After mortar fire hit the local community clinic, the Association of Indigenous Governments of North Cauca or ACIN declared themselves to be in a state of "permanent resistance."

The Colombian government increased the number of soldiers in the area, augmenting the number of troops in the region to 11,400. In spite of the heavy military presence here, the civilian body count has climbed.

"That hasn't improved the situation," Bernando Perez Salazar, an expert on Colombian conflict says. "On the contrary, the people feel the number of attacks increased."

Colombia's Nasa tribe fights army and rebels

The guard began patrolling their surroundings, facing down heavily armed guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, destroying fortified police positions and pushing the army out of their mountaintop barracks.

"The FARC is killing us and the military is not here to protect us," Manuel Cruz, an indigenous guard member says. "The rebels are here for the drugs and the military works for the people who want to steal the riches of our land."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called an emergency cabinet meeting in Toribio in an attempt to calm the community. While thousands of additional troops were in the area to provide security, the helicopters took fire from the hills and FARC set up checkpoints not far from town.

Santos announced a grand investment program of $280 million in the department, but he also promised to send in thousands of new troops and said that the Colombian military would not give up "one centimeter of land."

If the Colombian military were to withdraw or even scale down their presence in the area, it could have a serious effect on the regional drug trade, which in turn would allow the FARC to increase its revenue from drug trafficking.

Northern Cauca has been a FARC stronghold since the 1960s, with Toribio being among the first towns to be taken by the rebels. 

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