BOGOTA – Some 300 family members of a dozen Awa Indians killed last week in southwestern Colombia have fled their community due to persistent death threats, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, or ONIC, said Friday.
In a statement, ONIC expressed concern over the continuous harassment and threats faced by the Awa community since the massacre of 12 Indians on Aug. 26 in the southwestern province of Nariño.
“More than 300 people who inhabit this region began (as of Thursday) to flee their communities in El Gran Rosario reservation,” the ONIC statement said.
The continuous threats the communities have received, including warnings about another massacre, forced them to leave their communities and flee to a hamlet known as Guayacana, within the limits of the town of Tumaco.
“It’s worrying to know that in this settlement the Awa communities only have (makeshift homes) and therefore are facing a critical humanitarian situation,” the ONIC added.
That organization also urged the government to provide emergency assistance to the displaced indigenous communities and provide protection to witnesses of the massacre.
Jairo Miguel Pai, arrested Monday for his presumed involvement in the killings of the 12 Awa Indians, is a member of that same ethnic group who belongs to a new paramilitary group operating in southwestern Colombia.
The massacre, in which four children and three teenagers were killed, was committed by several armed men in camouflage at the home of Tulia Garcia. Garcia, one of the victims of the massacre, was a witness at a trial for the murder of her husband, who was abducted and killed in May, apparently by army soldiers.
The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, in a statement late last month, urged the Colombian government to conduct a “prompt, independent and thorough” investigation of the Aug. 26 massacre.
“Initial reports suggest that members of the army may have massacred these people with the purpose of eliminating and intimidating witnesses of atrocities,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW, was quoted as saying in the statement.
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 leftist guerrillas, right-wing militias, security forces and drug traffickers.
Despite security gains in large cities attributed to popular rightist President Alvaro Uribe, Vivanco said Colombia’s decades-old armed conflict has not died down in other areas.
“In Nariño, as in many parts of Colombia, the conflict rages on and abuses are rampant, yet often civilians feel ignored by the state,” Vivanco said.
“Instead of pretending the conflict doesn’t exist, the national government needs to do much more to protect civilians, ensure accountability for abuses, and provide assistance to the victims.” EFE