COLOMBIA: CPTers hear gunfire at paramilitary checkpoint

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CPTnet

December 26, 2001

COLOMBIA: CPTers hear gunfire at paramilitary

checkpoint

On Saturday morning, December

22, Christian Peacemaker Teams

(CPT) members Scott Kerr

(Chicago)and William Payne

(Toronto) were stopped and had

their bags searched by a unit

of the United Self-defence

Forces of Colombia (AUC is the

Spanish acronym.) The CPTers

were returning to their office

in Barrancabermeja, traveling

on the Opon River via the

local form of public

transportation, a large

motorized canoe known

as “the line,” when they

encountered a checkpoint at

the place where the Colorada

and Opon rivers meet, thirteen

kilometres south of the city.

Kerr and Payne heard five

gunshots as their canoe was

approaching the paramilitary

(AUC) checkpoint. Moments

later they saw several armed

men head away from the shore.

They did not see signs of a

confrontation nor of

casualties as they approached

the checkpoint, and never

found out why the shots were

fired.

About ten paramilitary members

armed with sub-machine guns,

pistols and shotguns remained

on the riverbank, some with

their faces covered. An

armed man informed the dozen

passengers, mostly older women

with children, that their bags

would be searched. Some

community members traveling on

the public transportation with

the team were asked for their

names and about previous

travel in the area. When

Payne and Kerr asked why the

search was happening, the

paramilitary members explained

that they were looking for

guerrillas.

CPT volunteers have been

stopped in this area by AUC

members on two other occasions

in the last month, but this

occasion was the first time a

they experienced a

paramilitary search

immediately following gunfire.

On Sunday, December 23, 2001

CPTers Erin Kindy (North

Manchester, Indiana), Lisa

Martens and Matt Schaaf (both

of Winnipeg, Canada) traveled

to the same location. Several

paramilitary members were

present when the Kindy,

Martens and Schaaf prayed for

peace near the checkpoint.

During their time of prayer,

the CPTers observed

civilian boat traffic pass

through without incident.

CPT has maintained an

international human rights

presence in the area since May

2001. CPT is concerned about

the increased presence of

armed groups in this zone and

calls on all groups to treat

the civilian population with

respect. CPT invites all the

armed actors to lay down their

weapons and begin working for

resolution of conflict by

peaceful means. CPT asks

people throughout the world to

call on the Colombian

government to take nonviolent

action to protect the

well-being of its civilians.

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