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article image17 Indigenous People Killed in Colombia

By Bob Ewing     Feb 10, 2009 in World
The UN Refugee Agency is calling for a thorough investigation into the reported murders last week of 17 Awá indigenous people in a remote area of south-western Colombia.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is calling for a thorough investigation into the reported murders last week of 17 Awá indigenous people in a remote area of south-western Colombia.
The agency strongly urges all parties involved to respect international humanitarian law and ask the Colombian government to fulfil its obligations to protect civilians and take special measures for the preservation of indigenous people.
According to initial reports from provincial and local authorities, state, the victims include two women and a child and were killed last week on Awá collective territory in the Colombian region of Nariño. The rest of the population is now extremely frightened amid increasing concerns over a mass displacement of people in the days to come.
The remote area is located along the Telembi River between the villages of Ricaurte and Barbacoas and is extremely difficult to reach. In some areas, there are many landmines. According to first reports, which are not yet possible to fully verify, the 17 indigenous people were murdered in a retaliatory attack carried out by an irregular armed group against the civilian population following the arrival of the Colombian armed forces.
The UNHCR field office in Narino has been working closely with the Awa people, who like many Colombian indigenous groups have been struggling for years to keep out of the country's internal conflict. The Awa in this part of Narino live on protected collective territory, but this has not stopped armed groups from entering their lands. As a result, they have been subjected to severe rights violations, including constant pressure and persecution, repeated murders and forced displacement.
The Awa people have repeatedly been forced to flee their ancestral lands over the past few years. Some have crossed the border to take refuge in neighbouring Ecuador. The use of land mines by irregular armed groups on their territory is another source of terror and forced displacement.
UNHCR calls for an urgent and independent inquiry into the reported incident and for quick and effective prevention measures as outlined in a series of early warnings repeatedly issued by Colombia's Ombudsman Office for the Nariño region.
With 21,000 people, the Awá are the largest indigenous group in Nariño, a department that suffers some of the worst violence and forced displacement in Colombia. For the past two years, Nariño produced more than 10 per cent of all cases of new forced displacement in the country. More than 300,000 people were displaced in Colombia in 2007 and preliminary 2008 figures show a similar trend, bringing the total number of registered internally displaced people to more than 2.8 million.
The Awa people are one of 87 different indigenous groups in Colombia. More than a third of these groups are at risk of extinction, largely as a result of armed conflict and forced displacement. Their survival depends greatly on being able to remain on their ancestral territories and maintaining their close links to the land. The Colombian Constitution recognizes them as people with special rights and specific protection needs.
More about Indigenous people, Colombia, Displacement
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