Latin America & Caribbean

Indigenous Colombians demand end to rebel, army clashes

Police guarding the police station in Toribio, Cauca province
Members of the area's indigenous tribes took away the sandbags used to secure the police station and emptied them in a nearby river

An indigenous leader in Colombia has urged the security forces and Colombia's largest rebel group, Farc, to take their fight elsewhere.

The indigenous leader of the town of Toribio, Marcos Yules, said the civilian population was tired of bearing the brunt of the fighting.

Ten people have been injured over the past days as Farc rebels shelled the town in south-western Cauca province in an attempt to take its police station.

The area is a Farc rebel stronghold.

On Monday, about 1,000 members of the Nasa, Guambiano and Paez tribes destroyed trenches built by the police to defend their police station.

They said the presence of the security forces was attracting rebel attacks.

"We do not understand how strengthening the security forces would defend the population," Mr Yules said.

"To the contrary, the strengthening of the security forces increases the fighting," he added.

'Pack up!'

An indigenous commission also marched to Farc camps in the mountains surrounding Toribio to demand the rebels leave the indigenous ancestral lands.

"One thousand of us went to see the guerrillas, to tell them to leave, that we don't need them, that we want them to leave us alone," Feliciano Valencia of the Cauca Indigenous Committee said.

Mr Valencia said they had given the rebels a two-week deadline: "If they don't pack up their camps, we'll pack them up for them," he said.

A year ago, the rebels drove a mini-bus packed with explosives into Toribio's police station. Three people were killed and more than 100 injured.

Mr Valencia said that the tribes wanted to assume control of the area themselves.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he would hold a meeting with his top military and police staff in Toribio to discuss strategy this week.

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