FARC Apologizes for Killing Indigenous Leaders
November 13, 2014 By Staff
Top Story — The FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group, has issued a statment saying that they “profoundly lament” killing two indigenous Nasa men near the southwestern municipality of Toribío earlier this month. The apology comes after seven FARC rebels were put on trial in a tribal court for the killings on Nov. 9, and five of them given long prison sentences.
The two Nasa men were part of the indigenous guard, the police force in the indigenous territory. According to members of the Nasa community, the guards and rebels got into an argument about removing posters commemorating the late FARC leader Alfonso Cano. The FARC shot the two men, and the remaining guards gave chase and arrested the seven rebels, who are themselves indigenous.
The FARC’s statement, however, contradicts the indigenous account, insisting that the guards attacked first, and that after killing the two men the rebels turned themselves in.
Some 5,000 members of the Nasa community participated in the trial, which handed out prison sentences ranging from 40 to 60 years to five of the rebels, giving the two minors in the group 20 lashes and time in a rehabilitation center. Under Colombian law, indigenous communities are given jurisdiction over their own territories.
The UN condemned the killings as an example of the widespread abuses committed by armed groups in Colombia’s civil conflict. The UN representative to Colombia, however, also condemned the rebels’ trial as lacking in due process. Other critics — including the accused rebels’ family — also say that the men did not receive a fair trial.
The Nasa community takes pride in its community justice system, which it says is a powerful deterrent to potential abuses.
This is not the first time that the community has put rebels on trial. Nasa courts have previously sentenced FARC rebels to public flogging after accusing them of attacking civilians.
The Nasa community has been caught in the middle of the Colombian conflict for years, resulting in a strained relationship with both the FARC and the state. In 2012, the tribe demanded that the Colombian military and the FARC leave their territory, accusing both of killing civilians. The indigenous guard has since driven the military out of some of their posts in addition to confronting and arresting FARC rebels.
The sentencing comes during continuing peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, in which the issue of victims’ rights is being discussed. Indigenous groups have demanded greater participation in the peace talks, as they are one of the key groups affected by the country’s decades-long conflict.
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