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Indigenous in Colombia call for demilitarization

After a bomb exploded in the southern province of Cauca last month, local leaders issued a statement urging both the Colombian government and guerrillas to disarm and leave their communities in peace.

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Throughout Cauca, indigenous communities say they have had enough of being caught in the crossfire. Civilians are frequently killed when fighting erupts, child soldiers taken by guerrillas, and indigenous leaders murdered when armed groups see native autonomy as a threat to their control. According to community leaders, the situation is quickly deteriorating as the government military steps up its offensive and the FARC battles to hold on to strategic land.

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The government has not responded to the indigenous leaders' calls for demilitarization, maintaining that it is necessary to drive the FARC out of their strongholds. Following the arrest of suspected minors involved in the recent Toribio attack, Colombian military General Jairo Erazo told local media: “We must fight so that minors will no longer be involved in the conflict and deprived of their rights."

While indigenous leaders stood in Toribio square calling for the demilitarization of their territory recently, the Colombian defense minister announced the deployment of 500 special troops in an effort to capture FARC chief Alfonso Cano who is believed to be hiding in the mountains near Tacueyó town, close to Toribio in Cauca. The FARC are reported to have brought in reserves from across the country. The natives who live on the rugged mountains that make up the Tacueyó reserve are terrified over what the military surge means for their communities. “The new high altitude troops are coming without our permission. We know the effects. They will make our territory a scene of war, which will inevitably affect the civilian population,” says José Miller Correa, governor of the indigenous council of Tacueyó.

As the new special 'high mountain battalion' arrive in the Tacueyó reserve, locals brace themselves for an increase in fighting. “I am so scared,” said Liliana Alarco, sitting outside her street stall in downtown Tacueyó. One day last year as her son walked back from school, fighting broke out between guerrillas and the government military. A bomb exploded, sending shrapnel into his stomach. It took him three months to recover and only just now can he walk to school again. “We have no idea what to do now, but my children are so terrified they can't sleep.”

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