Colombian army wants base on indigenous sacred ground

Colombian army wants base on indigenous sacred ground

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June 26, 2008

Last week, a group of indigenous Kofan expressed concern about a new base Colombia’s army is building at a site called “Finca Maravales” in the Guamués valley in Putumayo, reports the Colombian newspaper El Espectador.

The group had traveled to Bogota to take part in a press conference marking the creation of a 10,000-hectare bio-reserve for traditional medicines used by the Kofan and other Indigenous Peoples in the region.

When it came time for the Kofan to speak, they took the opportunity to read a statement concerning the new base. The Kofan explained that Finca Maravales “is Kofán ancestral territory, and is a part of the Shelter of Santa Rosa Guamués,” which was first occupied in the 1960’s.

For more than two years, the Kofan have been aware that the army wanted to permanently establish themselves in the region. Since then, they’ve been working with several NGOs who have themselves requested the OAS implement protective measures because the Kofan view “Finca Maravales” as sacred ground.

Further, the Kofan said the presence of the army is destroying the environment and disturbing their region’s peace to such an extent that they can’t practice their traditions. They also said the ongoing construction has made it impossible to catch fish in the nearby river because the noise has scared them all away.

El Espectador interviewed Colonel Nelson Camacho Rojas, who’s in charge of the Brigade that will be settled in the valley. Colonel Camacho had no comments on the damage and infringement the Kofan discussed at the press conference, however, he made an assurance that the army has no plans to build anything in the specific region held sacred by the Kofan.

He also said their presence in the Guamués valley is ‘necessary’ because of its strategic value in the fight against FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The army claims FARC uses the valley to smuggle weapons in and drugs out.

Whether or not this is true, a simple assurance is beyond inadequate — if only because they’re already impacting the region.

The Kofan are demanding a detailed explanation of the project, an environmental impact study, and a guarantee that the sacred grounds won’t be desecrated.

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