BOGOTA – Colombian police arrested a suspect in last week’s killings of 12 Awa Indians in the southern province of Nariño, El Tiempo newspaper said on its Web page.
The daily said that Jairo Miguel Pai Nastapuas was arrested in Orito, a hamlet in the neighboring province of Putumayo, though sources in the Colombian Attorney General’s office declined to confirm the information when contacted by Efe.
Police had been looking for Pai since a judge issued a warrant for his arrest last Thursday.
Pai, himself an Indian, has a criminal record that includes arrests for extortion and kidnapping, and investigators say the reason he killed the 12 Awas was that they refused his demands for protection money.
The man in custody is thought to be the head of a gang that engages in the extortion and kidnapping of natives, especially in Nariño.
With regard to the massacre, the government has said that it will carry out investigations and nab the killers, as Interior and Justice Minister Fabio Valencia said at the funeral for the victims.
Human Rights Watch suggested last week that the killings had been the work of Colombian army soldiers.
The U.S.-based group spoke out after 11 people were slain last Wednesday by armed men wearing camouflage who burst into a home in the Awa community of El Rosario.
One of the victims of that attack, Tulia Garcia, was the wife of an Awa man abducted and murdered at the beginning of last week, HRW noted.
“Initial reports suggest that members of the army may have massacred these people, for the purpose of eliminating and intimidating witnesses of atrocities,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
HRW cited “official sources” as saying that Gonzalo Rodriguez, Tulia Garcia’s husband, was killed by soldiers from the Colombian army’s 23rd Battalion, who later claimed the Awa man was a member of the leftist FARC rebels and that they shot him when he tried to escape.
Garcia told Colombian media she saw armed men detain her husband last Sunday and that she subsequently found his bullet-riddled body on the side of the road.
Tulia Garcia and her two children, ages 5 and 6, were among the 11 people killed Wednesday in the attack on the family’s home, HRW said.
Around 11,000 Awas live in southern Nariño, near the border with Ecuador, and members of the community have often been victims of violence from FARC guerrillas, right-wing militias, security forces and drug traffickers. EFE