An indigenous group from the southwest of Colombia said Tuesday they may sue the Colombian government for using violence when retaking a military base in mid-July.
The army used tear gas and rubber bullets when they retook El Berlin, a strategically important hilltop in the north of the embattled Cauca department, from the Nasa indigenous group on July 19.
“When they retook the El Berlin hilltop, 26 indigenous were injured. One of them is still in intensive care in [the department capital] Popayan. Who responds for this violence?” indigenous leader Marcos Yule told newspaper El Espectador, hours after the country’s prosecutor general announced he would not take legal action against locals who took part in the non-violent occupation of the hill two days prior to their eviction.
The Nasa indigenous group’s takeover of the base was part of a series of uprisings by the group protesting the presence of armed groups in the region. Other operations included the occupancy of other military posts, the capture of four FARC guerrillas who were later subjected to public flogging (an traditional Nasa punishment), and a series of sizeable protest marches.
In recent weeks the government agreed to a dialogue with local indigenous leaders who are demanding all armed actors — government security forces and leftist guerrillas — leave their territory. The Nasa called for an end to violence along with access to education and health care. The indigenous people suspended the talks during the second meeting however, after the interior minister and defense minister failed to show, demonstrating what they considered a lack of commitment on the part of the Colombian government.
The Cauca department is one of the hardest hit by rebel and counter-insurgency violence as it is a historic FARC stronghold and located along a strategic drug trafficking corredor that connects southern Colombia to the Pacific Ocean.