Colombia’s land restitution threatened by armed groups

Numerous Colombian rights groups and farmers who want their stolen land returned said Thursday they are receiving threats from an apparently newly formed “anti land restitution army.”

The group vowing to block restitution of land to farmers displaced by paramilitary groups has threatened more than five human rights NGOs in the southwestern department of Nariño.

Representative of the Permanent Committee on Human Rights in Nariño Javier Dorado said, “The anti land restitution army believes the government of [Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos] has betrayed the proposal  of [previous president Alvaro Uribe] and therefore refuse to recognize the legitimacy of victims en the country and will not permit an inch of land to be restored.”

In the northern municipalities of Pelaya and La Gloria, farmers seeking to reclaim land have reported similar threats. Freddy Rodriguez Corrales, leader of the restitution process for 53 families in the region, said threats from armed groups have increased. “The presence of armed groups in this area is notable. We are photographed in our house and receive direct threats,” said Corrales.

The anti land restitution army claims to be a new group fighting what they see as unjust land reclamation but according to Dorado, “obviously all this aggression against civilian populations is done by paramilitary groups like the ‘Rastrojos.'”

The forming of the “anti land restitution army” was announced earlier this week by left-wing research group Nuevo Arco Iris, who said that in the north of Colombia former members of demobilized paramilitary organization AUC — the primary suspect of land theft over the past 20 years — were forming the army to defend the interest of those who benefited from the massive theft of farmland and the displacement of farmers.

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