MAC: Mines and Communities

Colombian miners demand justice after assassination

Published by MAC on 2006-09-29

Colombian miners demand justice after assassination

29th September 2006

After months of aggressive intimidation, including some killings, 1300 miners, their families and other residents of Colombia's Southern Bolivar region are in a tense standoff with civilian and military authorities, Christian peacemakers in the region report.

The act that turned simmering discontent into organized protest was the assassination on September 19 of Alejandro Uribe, a community leader and father of two.

In a public statement, the Diocese of Magangue called Alejandro's murder the "culmination of a disturbing chain of attacks, blockades, threats and other assassinations that, according to the population of the area, unfortunately are being committed by members of the Nueva Granada Battalion [of the 5th Brigade] of the Colombian Army." Local residents claim the militarization is part of a campaign designed to intimidate and force people off their land in order to make room for the multinational company Anglo Gold Ashanti and its Colombian affiliate, Kedahda S.A.

The day after Uribe's murder, frightened area residents gathered in the village of San Luquitas to discuss a response to the situation. They decided to converge on the regional seat of government, Santa Rosa del Sur, to demand that the government investigate Alejandro's death and respond to ongoing military abuses against civilians in the area. Approximately 1300 had arrived by September 26.

Those gathered organized a peaceful candlelight march through the town the evening of September 24, ending at the central plaza. Members of each of the sixteen communities paid homage to Alejandro and other disappeared and assassinated community leaders and pledged to keep their spirits alive by continuing the nonviolent struggle for justice.

The morning of September 26, the communities—along with representatives of the Catholic Church and local, national and international human rights and humanitarian organizations, including Christian Peacemaker Teams — were gathered for a long-awaited meeting with national government authorities about the situation in Southern Bolivar.

The main condition the communities placed on the meeting was that it should take place with civilian authorities only and without the presence of military. Upon arrival, both military and government authorities insisted on the presence of military authorities in the meeting. In response, the people once again marched through the streets demanding justice. They then occupied the central plaza, and the government officials left without a dialogue.

Negotiations continue in order to arrange a meeting between the communities and civilian authorities in the near future.

As of Wednesday, the communities had decided to stay in Santa Rosa until they got a meeting rather than return to their homes to face intimidation and threats against their lives.

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