Beleaguered Colombian town calls for more action against police and guerrillas

Indigenous leaders in southern Colombia have called for a mass gathering in the town of Toribío on Tuesday as they continue trying to force the military and guerrillas out of the area in hopes of bringing peace to the beleaguered region. But the call for action comes amid schisms in the indigenous movement that could weaken their efforts.

On Monday, Ana Silvia Secué, a representative of the OPIC indigenous organization, told RCN Radio that leaders in Colombia’s southern Cauca province were in league with the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón seized on her statement to say that it “unmasked” the FARC’s influence and sway over the groups that have been challenging the army and police.

Leaders in the town of Toribío, which has been at the epicenter of the struggle, shot back, accusing Secué and her organization of being government shills and trying to torpedo their effort to pacify the region.

Caught in the crossfire between the army and guerrillas that has left at least three dead, almost a dozen wounded and forced thousands to flee in recent weeks, the community of Toribío has been using peaceful protests to try to force both parties out.

On Wednesday, villagers, mostly Nasa Indians, occupied and partially dismantled a nearby army base. They also cleared FARC checkpoints leading into town and seized guerrilla mortars. On Monday, they called for a mass rally in the town to continue those efforts.

“We understand the pressure that the indigenous people have been facing from terrorists groups all these years, and the government is open to dialogue,” Pinzón said. “But under no condition will the armed forces leave that area.”