Witnesses in Colombian “fake displacement” case to get protection

Colombia’s Prosecutor General Viviane Morales has said protection will be given to witnesses in an investigation into a community which allegedly faked being displaced from its land.

Morales said, “Those who want to participate as witnesses are going to begin a victim and witness protection program, run by the Prosecutor General’s Office.”

Prosecutor General Morales announced the offer of protection during a visit to the Las Pavas estate in Buenos Aires, in the south of the Bolivar department. It’s alleged that the community that lives there, that was awarded the estate during a famous land restitution case, lied about receiving paramilitary threats.

The case is complicated, as the last time the farmers were removed from the land (in 2009) it was by Colombian riot police, not by paramilitaries. The eviction followed a court order obtained by palm oil company Daabon, who had bought the land from its previous owner, Jesus Emilio Escobar, Pablo Escobar’s uncle.

At the time, the community were trying to gain official rights to the land through a forfeiture process being implement by Colombia’s Institute for Rural Development (Incoder), the organization which oversees land restitution. Their basis for the forfeiture claim was alleged abandonment of the land by Escobar – though they do also claim to have been displaced by paramilitaries several times in the 15 years prior to this abandonment.

The July Constitutional Court ruling declared the 2009 forced eviction illegal and ordered the Incoder forfeiture process to be continued – a process which led to the farmers being granted rights to the land and awarded financial compensation from the presidential welfare fund Accion Social.

Myriam Martinez Palomino, the Prosecutor General’s Cartagena officer, last week accused the community, and the international NGOs and major British company The Body Shop which have supported it, of fraud, following claims by a man named Pedro Moreno Redondo that he lied about paramilitary threats during the forfeiture process. He has been described in the press as one of the leaders of the community – but the community and NGOs who worked with them deny this.

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