Colombian authorities said Thursday they have reached an agreement with indigenous leaders to end the tense situation in the southwestern department of Cauca, although community leaders from the area disputed this claim.
According to local newspaper El Liberal, the agreement specifically stated there would be no more armed clashes between the Colombian security forces and the indigenous guard in the northern Cauca municipalities of Toribio and Caldono.
However, representatives from the Association of Indigenous Councils in Northern Cauca told Colombia Reports that no such agreement had been reached and recent local media reports regarding the agreement were false.
In the past few weeks, the two municipalities have been the scenes of fierce protests as indigenous movements tried to force the army and police out of the area, arguing the armed state presence put the community members’ lives at risk.
On Wednesday, one protester was killed near Toribio as the Colombian police retook an army outpost briefly occupied by roughly 400 indigenous protestors, although certain estimates were as high as 1,000. The occupation took place the same day President Juan Manuel Santos arrived in the town to announce “Plan Cauca,” a security strategy aimed at curbing FARC-related violence in the department, a traditional guerrilla stronghold, through increased military presence and the development of social initiatives.
James Yatacue, a representative from a local indigenous organization, said Thursday representatives from the army, Colombia’s ombudsman and the indigenous community would meet to discuss further solutions to the ongoing conflict between security forces and FARC rebels.
Federico Renjifo, Colombia’s interior minister, said Thursday “an open dialogue” was being held with indigenous organizations, while pointing out “the [armed forces] will stay in all of the national territory and this cannot be a negotiable condition.”
Cauca has been a FARC haven historically, due to its mixture of mountainous and swampy terrain and easy access to drug smuggling routes, and the recent surge in violence has highlighted the departments fragile security situation.