There exists no illegal armed group called the Anti-Land Restitution Army in Colombia, the country’s authorities said Monday after claims 400 groups were violently trying to prevent the return of stolen lands to displaced farmers.
Victims’ leaders, journalists and NGOs have received death threats by people calling themselves the “Anti-Land Restitution Army” since 2011.
Conflict monitoring NGO Nuevo Arco Iris said in 2012 that an army was founded in the north of Colombia by cattle ranchers and landowners who had benefited from the mass displacement of farmers during Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict between the state, leftist rebel groups like the FARC and ELN, and right-wing paramilitary groups formed from the demobilized paramilitary umbrella organization AUC.
|“We must emphasize that this so-called Anti-Land Restitution Army does not exist and is fiction created to sow panic.”|
However, according to Andres Villamizar, the chief of the National Protection Unit (UNP), investigations have proven that there is not one organization that can be dubbed the Anti-Land Restitution Army. Instead, said the official, individual opponents of individual cases of land restitution have adopted the name in order to sow terror.
“We must emphasize that this so-called Anti-Land Restitution Army does not exist and is fiction created to sow panic,” said Villamizar.
The UNP responded to the allegations by Nuevo Arco Iris and the leftist opposition Senator Ivan Cepeda who only months ago said that 400 of Colombia’s 1,100 municipalities had seen threats by “anti-land restitution armies.”
|“You don’t solve problems by denying their existence, but by attacking their causes.”|
Cepeda told Colombia reports on Monday that he would not take the UNP’s investigation too seriously and called on the government to fight the cause of the killings of displaced leaders.
“The existence of paramilitary groups is impossible to hide. There also is a huge interest to avoid any type of land restitution, be it through violent means — another undeniable fact,” said Cepeda, adding that “you don’t solve problems by denying their existence, but by attacking their causes.”
Colombia began a process of land restitution in 2011. Tens of thousands of farmers have since appealed to have their land returned. However, the land restitution program has come under fire as it apparently has failed to return plots of land to their rightful owners while more than 50 land restitution claimants were killed.