Two suspected members of the neo-paramilitary group “Los Urabeños” were arrested Monday in northwestern Colombia for their alleged involvement in the 2010 murder of a land rights activist.
Diego Alfonso Hernandez Banquet, alias “Fidel,” and Filiberto Charrasquiel Lopez, alias “Felix,” were arrested in separate operations in the department of Antioquia on charges of murder, torture, forced displacement and intimidation.
The investigation into the two men began after the murder of Hernando Perez Hoyos, a land rights activist, in September 2010. Two men allegedly approached Perez on a motorcycle forcing him to leave his car and accompany them. Two hours later Perez’s body was found in an isolated area, according to authorities.
Perez was a member of the Association of Victims for the Restitution of Property (Asovirestibi), a group whose goal is to restore land stolen by paramilitaries, guerrillas and other criminal groups in the Uraba region of Antioquia, where the Urabeños are based.
Police linked the murder to a similar incident involving Perez’s friend and fellow activist, Hector Cavadia Pitalua. Two days after Perez’s body was discovered, Cavadia was kidnapped by two men and taken to a remote area, where he was bound, gagged and tortured. He was left for dead before being rescued by police.
Criminal groups like the Urabeños often engage in forced displacement, stealing land from farmers to facilitate their drug trafficking operations, or by assisting corporations who gather up large swaths of land after residents are forced to leave due to intimidation and threats of violence.
Colombia’s Victims and Land Restitution Law, which went into effect in January, seeks to compensate victims of the country’s longstanding armed conflict. A part of the bill is aimed at compensating those who have had their land forcibly taken from them by armed groups. Government officials say they have received over 16,000 land claims so far.
Claimants are required to prove they were forced from their homes by illegal armed groups after January 1, 1985 and must demonstrate they will use the restored land efficiently.
The first rulings over land restitution claims will occur in September, according to Colombian officials.