LA PAZ – The bodies of four police officers tortured and killed by Indians in the western province of Potosi have been buried, Bolivia’s national ombudsman said Tuesday.
Rolando Villena, who in recent days went to the scene of the crime, told the media that the Indians, according to their beliefs, buried the bodies face down “so that the souls of those who had been killed would not persecute those who had killed them.”
Residents of the town of Uncia, in northern Potosi, killed the policemen nine days ago after accusing them of committing murders, robberies and extortion.
Authorities have been unable to reach Uncia, as an assembly of the region’s Ayllus Guerreros, or Warrior Clans, declared the area to be a “red zone.”
“The communities admitted that they carried out justice with their own hands. After having tortured them in a most cruel way, they killed them, but they were not burned,” Villena said Tuesday.
Bolivian President Evo Morales sent two Cabinet ministers to the area on Monday to persuade the Uncia residents to turn over the police officers’ bodies.
But the indigenous leaders’ talks with presidential chief of staff Oscar Coca and Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti ended without any agreement.
Villena said the clans are refusing to have anything to do with the investigation into the deaths of the officers and, on the contrary, have demanded that the murders of seven area residents over the last six years – killings the Indians blame on police – be investigated.
Morales on Tuesday ruled out any military or police intervention in Uncia.
“We’re not going to seek any military or police intervention. We have confidence in some of the indigenous leaders and residents who are ready to return the bodies as a humanitarian question,” Bolivia’s first indigenous president told a press conference in La Paz.
He said the resistance to allowing authorities into the town was coming from “some people used by the smugglers.”
The president urged the Attorney General’s Office to investigate both the lynchings and the Uncia residents’ complaints about extortion and other abuses by police.
Some Aymara and Quechua Indian communities of the Andean highlands say lynchings are part of the indigenous justice system that was recognized in the constitution enacted last year at the urging of Morales, but the government rejects that argument.
Officials say the recognition of traditional justice is not a license for vigilantism. The government also points to the constitutional ban on capital punishment.
The Warrior Clans are so called because of their nearly 200-year-long history of involvement in sometimes bloody conflicts over land, clashes blamed for roughly 10,000 deaths since 1830, though the most recent round of fighting was nine years ago, when 57 people died. EFE