COLOMBIA: CPTers accompany mining region residents who demand justice after assassination, other military abuses

29 September 2006 
COLOMBIA: CPTers accompany mining region residents who demand justice after assassination, other military abuses

After months of increasing military presence in their communities, 1300 miners, their families and other residents of Colombia's Southern Bolivar region are in a tense standoff with civilian and military authorities. 

The act that turned simmering discontent into organized protest was the assassination on 19 September of Alejandro Uribe, a community leader and father of two.

The day after Uribe's murder, frightened area residents gathered in the village of San Luquitas to discuss a response to the situation. They decided to converge on the regional seat of government, Santa Rosa del Sur, to demand that the government investigate Alejandro's death and respond to ongoing military abuses against civilians in the area. The convergence that began 22 September accumulated approximately 1300 people by 26 September. CPTers Lisa Hughes and Kim Lamberty have been accompanying the miners and their families since 22 September.

In a public statement, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Magangue called Alejandro's murder the "culmination of a disturbing chain of attacks, blockades, threats and other assassinations that, according to the population of the area, unfortunately are being committed by members of the Nueva Granada Battalion [of the 5th Brigade] of the Colombian Army." Local residents claim the militarization is part of a campaign to intimidate and force people off their land in order to make room for the multinational company Anglo Gold Ashanti and its Colombian affiliate, Kedahda S.A.

The communities gathered in Santa Rosa organized a peaceful candlelight march through the town the evening of 24 September. Members of each of the sixteen communities paid homage to Alejandro and other disappeared and assassinated community leaders and pledged to keep their spirits alive by continuing the nonviolent struggle for justice.

The morning of 26 September, the communities-along with representatives of the Catholic Church and local, national, and international human rights and humanitarian organizations, including Christian Peacemaker Teams-were gathered for a much-anticipated meeting with national government authorities about the situation in Southern Bolivar. The main condition the communities placed on the meeting was that it should take place with civilian authorities only. However, both military and government authorities came by helicopter to Santa Rosa and insisted on the presence of military authorities at the meeting. In response, the people once again marched through the streets demanding justice. They then occupied the central plaza, and the government officials left without a dialogue.

Negotiations continue regarding the scheduling of a meeting between the communities and civilian authorities. As of Thursday, 28 September, the communities had decided to stay in Santa Rosa until they get a meeting rather than return to their homes to face intimidation and threats against their lives. The people who had gathered in San Luquitas reported that members of the Nueva Granada Battalion told them on 21 September, "This will not be the only death that you will have. There will be more deaths of

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