Hundreds of members of the Nasa tribe, which numbers over 100,000, attacked soldiers guarding Berlin hill, where telecommunications towers are situated. The Nasa began climbing the hill at 6 a.m., reports Vanguardia, in a group including including women, children, and elderly people. Their leader read an announcement saying that the military should leave, and the indigenous began taking the army’s supplies. One soldier was carried down the hill by the group. The army said it had temporarily withdrawn to avoid further clashes.
The Associated Press reports that six soldiers were removed, while the BBC says the Nasa reported the the number at around 100, and Vanguardia puts the number at 30.
The region has seen some of the worst combat between guerrillas and government forces in the last few years. At least three civilians have died in clashes in recent weeks, and thousands have been displaced. Cauca is a crucial strategic location for the rebels, as it is part of a corridor connecting their land in the interior of the country to the Pacific coast, from which drug shipments are launched. As well as the FARC, it is home to the ELN rebel group and the Rastrojos drug gang, who have formed a loose alliance.
The government’s response has been measured so far. The troops are under orders not to respond with force, and dramatic images in El Espectador show a uniformed soldier being lifted in the air and dragged from his post by a group armed with sticks. Another is seen packing up his belongings, including a mattress, as the indigenous guard look on, while one image shows a soldier breaking down in tears. The AP says that one soldier fired shots into the air in frustration, but that there were no serious injuries in the clashes.
However, the government has not held back from linking the protests with the FARC. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said the indigenous groups had been infiltrated by the rebels, saying “we know that this is what the FARC want, to generate a confrontation, but our army is very professional,” reports El Espectador.
Sargent Rodrigo Garcia told Vanguardia that “the dignity of my men has been mocked, and that of the army too.”
The WSJ calls the protests “one of the biggest challenges yet” to the authority of President Juan Manuel Santos, who has come under criticism for recent deteriorations in security in the country. Today, Santos announced that he was changing his planned schedule to go to Cauca and deal with the situation first hand, saying on his Twitter account “I don’t want to see a single indigenous person on an army base,” El Espectador reports.
The government is trying to hold a meeting with indigenous leaders to reach an agreement.
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