The alleged accord stated that there would be no more armed clashes between security forces and the armed indigenous members of the Nasa tribe in the northern Cauca municipalities of Toribio and Caldono, although indigenous organizations in the region say no such agreement had been reached.
The Nasa have been protesting the military’s presence in their communities for weeks, arguing that the army continues to put residents’ lives at risk. The tribe is tired of getting caught in the crossfire of Colombia’s longstanding armed conflict between the FARC and state security forces. A surge in combat in the southwestern department of Cauca, a historical bastion of guerilla activity, forced hundreds to leave their homes in recent weeks.
“We’re not in agreement with the military and we’re not in agreement with the guerrillas because none of them protect us,” Isadora Cruz, from the Association of Indigenous Councils in Northern Cauca (ACIN), told Colombia Reports.
If a peace agreement has not yet been reached the state’s ongoing military presence could violate international law. According to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007, no military activity can occur on indigenous territory without the affected communities’ full agreement.
Sarah Cueller, also from ACIN, claimed that local media were skewing the public’s perception of violence in the embattled department.
“The media’s reporting things the opposite way around, only showing news that supports the state,” she added. “The ideas being broadcast don’t correspond with the reality,” she said.
An estimated 400 indigenous members from Toribio and surrounding areas occupied a nearby military base July 10 in protest of the military’s ongoing presence in the region. Images of Colombian soldiers being dragged on the ground by protesters that were broadcast widely throughout the country paint an inaccurate picture of the events that took place, according to the ACIN, who claimed that the incident lasted only moments and was simply a reaction to the violent behavior of Colombian troops.
This was before the base was retaken by police Tuesday, resulting in the shooting death of one protester and injuring 23 others.
ACIN announced Thursday that four suspected FARC guerrillas were detained by Toribio’s indigenous guard. The four insurgents were brought to a local school where they will answer to Nasa tribal leaders on allegations of attacking civilians. The guerrillas could face punishments such as flogging or exile if they are found guilty.
President Juan Manuel Santos arrived in Toribio, known as Colombia’s Baghdad by local media, July 10, amid waves of protest to announce “Plan Cauca,” a security strategy aimed at tackling FARC presence in the region through increased military presence and furthering social initiatives.
Reporters Sarah Kinosian and Miriam Wells contributed to this report from Cauca