Paramilitary presence grows in Coyaima , Tolima state
URGENT ACTIONCORPORACIÓN REINICIAR denounces before the public opinion and the authorities the events occurred during the last weeks in the Municipality of Coyaima, in the southern part of the Department of Tolima.
PARAMILITARY PRESENCE GROWS STRONG IN COYAIMA TOLIMA
FACTS: 1. Since the last week of December, 2006, an armed group of around 10 members dressed in civil clothes, started visiting different communities of the Municipality of Coyaima, in the southern part of Tolima. During those days and until the beginning of this months, the group dedicated to interrogate the population (most of them indigenous and peasant people) about the gold mines, the indigenous reservations, and the political activities in the municipality.
2. Simultaneously, graffiti signs appeared in the communities of Santa Marta del Palmar and Santa Marta Inspección (20 km away from the municipality seat). The signs were sprayed on the walls of the municipal council offices, the elementary school, and several houses. Messages like: ³out telltale guerrilla², ³death to the communist and the guerrilla supporters². Phrases of this kind were sprayed on farms in the Doyaré Porvenir community (5 Km away from the municipality seat). The graffiti signs have been signed by N.O.L.C., abbreviation that also appears on the light poles and houses of the communities mentioned above. Up to this moment the meaning of the abbreviation is unknown, but it is presumed that it represents the new name or motto of the paramilitary group active in the zone.
3. During the first week of January about fifteen more men, strongly armed and dressed in camouflaged uniforms, arrived at the municipality. It is presumed that these men gather and overnight at San Pedro ranch, located in the Papagalá community, in the neighboring Municipality of Saldaña. In total, around 25 people from the same group (half dressed in civil clothes and the other half dressed in military uniforms), have moved from that place to the communities in Coyaima, gathering information about the population, demanding money and animals from the reservations, and intimidating the population. Members of this group have been heard saying they had came to the Municipality of Coyaima to ³clean it² from thieves and guerrilla.
4. There is specific information indicating that this group demanded one calf and 500 thousand Pesos (around 225 US Dollars) from the indigenous reservation El Palmar Bocas de Babí, and from the reservation of Santa Marta Inspección. It seems other reservations of the municipality have also been extorted, as well as local merchants, especially miners.
5. The alleged paramilitary members of the group convened a meeting with the community of Santa Marta del Palmar to inform the inhabitants of the purpose of their presence in the zone and to announce some ³instructions². In the beginning, the meeting was scheduled for January 7, at the community¹s high school, but later it was rescheduled and cancelled twice. Up to this date there has been no meeting since the conveners have never attended.
6. On January 10 the GAULA unit (special anti-kidnapping group) of the Police arrested 5 of the alleged paramilitary members and killed three more in a confrontation in Santa Marta Inspección, thanks to a report made by an architect who was assaulted and extorted by the paramilitary group. According to the information available to us, the GAULA unit arrived at the place of the arrest after receiving a report about a group of robbers. However, neither the GAULA unit nor the Army had addressed the previous reports about the presence of the same group when they were informed about a paramilitary incursion. Troops of the Battalion Caicedo of the National Army, who often patrol the zone, have not stopped the members of this group from moving freely throughout the municipality, carrying weapons and military uniforms.
7. The process and the detainees during this GAULA¹s operation were transferred to Ibagué the day after the arrest was made. The alleged paramilitary members told the population they would soon come back and would retaliate against the community for reporting them. During the last five days the other members of the group have not been seen around the communities mentioned above, but it is known they are still concentrated in Papagalá, Municipality of Saldaña.
BACKGROUND:1. During 2001 and 2002, the Municipality of Coyaima suffered the terrible consequences of a paramilitary incursion to the zone. In this occasion, the paramilitary perpetrated a chain of violations against supporters and leaders of the Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union) and the Partido Comunista Colombiano (Colombian Communist Party). An example of this is the assassination and forced disappearance of their members, the forced displacement of their families, and the continuous threats against their lives.
2. Before such incursion, the Patriotic Union had won the majority of seats in the Municipal Council of Coyaima, obtaining 6 of the 13 seats. Since 2001 that number started to decline as a direct consequence of paramilitary actions. Currently the party only holds one seat.
3. During the previous paramilitary incursion (2001 2002) links between the paramilitary group and the Armed Forces, and their collaboration with the paramilitary, were evident. The community of Coyaima reported in several occasions that a helicopter of the Army¹s IV Brigade delivered provisions to the paramilitary group present in the municipality.
4. Since 2003, the paramilitary group left most of the communities of Coyaima, but they remain active in neighboring municipalities, especially in Saldaña and San Luis. Night check points are permanent in the area. The last month of November the paramilitary group killed three people, among them a pregnant woman, during a night check point just 8 Km away from Coyaima¹s Municipality Seat.
5. The strengthening of the paramilitary presence in the municipality appears just before the local elections and after support for the Colombian leftist party was widely shown in Coyaima. In fact, during the last presidential election, the candidate of the Polo Democrático Alternativo (Alternative Democratic Pole) obtained the majority of votes in Coyaima, reaching 1,700 votes in this small municipality.
The facts and background described above seriously worry Coyaima¹s inhabitants, particularly leftist supporters and activists. The new incursion is similar in fashion to the paramilitary incursion in 2001. There are serious signs showing that this time the paramilitary forces also pretend to destroy the electorate¹s support obtained by the non-traditional political parties. Although the paramilitary forces have never completely left the zone, they have recently strengthened their presence in the southern part of Tolima, entering municipalities in which there is an important number of indigenous reserves. This is how the municipalities of Ortega and Natagaima, close to Coyaima and with indigenous population, are facing a situation similar to the one described above.
DEMANDS:1. We request from the National Government, particularly from the President of the Republic as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, to guarantee the right to life, privacy, and security of person, among other rights that have been violated and threatened in Coyaima and neighboring communities. Similarly, we request from the National Government to comply with their international responsibilities related to respecting and guaranteeing human rights. In consequence, we request the Government to make all necessary efforts to protect the community¹s life and integrity, especially that of the survivors of the Patriotic Union and the Colombian Communist Party. They are politically active in the region and in imminent risk.
2. From the Nation¹s Public Prosecutor¹s Office, to formally initiate a criminal investigation on the abuses described above, with the objective of clarifying the events and identifying the perpetrators.
3. From the Nation¹s Attorney General¹s Office, to investigate the behavior of the Public Forces, their actions or neglect, in the events described above. We also request from this office to instruct all State personnel and the Public Forces to respect all constitutional rights of the civil population of this zone.
We also request from national and international organizations, advocating for the defense of human rights, to contact the Colombian authorities to demand protection and guarantees for the rights of the population of Coyaima, a population in imminent danger.
Bogotá, January 16, 2007
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