ECUADOR: Colombian Paramilitaries Expel Natives
NUEVA LOJA, Ecuador, Feb 9, 2001 (IPS) Some 500 natives of Sucumbíos, a province in Ecuador on the border with Colombia, were threatened and forced to leave their land by Colombian paramilitaries who operate in Ecuadorian territory.
Fifteen armed people, covering their heads with hoods, arrived Wednesday at the Bermeja San Miguel communities and threatened the settlers after identifying themselves as members of the rightist United Self-defense of Colombia (AUC).
The incursion of the AUC disclosed this Friday caused a commotion in this border zone and the reactions of the local authorities, which linked the incursion with the effects the execution of the Colombia Plan causes in Ecuador and of the war against drugs with its special endorsement by the United States.
Juan Noteno, leader of one of the threatened communities, assured that the armed group gave them 24 hours to leave the land "if they did not want to die under fire and flames".
The kichwa, shuar and cofán natives who emigrated the same Wednesday to the south and Nueva Loja, the provincial capital, commented that the paramilitary advised them "that they would return to see if they had carried out the order".
"They said that they needed the space completely free for the confrontations that were going to occur with the guerrillas", one of the farmers who preferred not to give his name added.
He also said that another important group of natives in the zone will leave their homes in the next few hours because conditions do not exist to live there since the Ecuadorian army does not offer protection to them.
"Nevertheless people from three kichwas communities, two communities of shuar and one cofán community failed to leave", he explained.
The commander of IV the Division of Amazon Army, General Víctor Zabala, indicated that specialized intelligence agents are investigating to learn the details of the action of the Colombian paramilitaries.
For his part, the mayor of Nueva Loja, Máximo Abad, asked for an urgent meeting with national authorities to request that they protect the threatened communities and that they take care of the people displaced from their land.
Abad thought that the country is not prepared to take care of the Ecuadorians that, as a result of the Colombia Plan, "must take refuge in other parts of the country".
The Red Cross also made an evaluation of the situation and "will lend emergency aid to the displaced natives", explained the Press Officer of the organization, Ricardo Camacho.
Also the Minister of Defense, Hugo Unda, recognized that the Colombia Plan has repercussions in the country.
Roberto Similcar, one of the threatened shuar natives, criticized the performance of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces in the border between both countries.
"The military never patrol the border. They take refuge in the towns and cities abusing and castigating the innocents, while in the rural border zone, where the paramilitaries are, they don't know that they exist", he affirmed.
However, General Zabala insisted that the patrols are permanent and that the objective of these paramilitary groups is to control the entrance channels towards Colombia, "to have access to the supplies".
The military leader added that the order that the soldiers assigned to that wild region is to not allow "foreign" forces to threaten the security of the country and its inhabitants.
Similcar responded that "it is most extraordinary that the army says that it has patrols watching this zone, while we must leave our homes and land to save our lives".
The natives confirm that the military quartered in that region of Ecuador only act to stifle indigenous protests."
"It is as happened this week in Napo, an amazonian province located to the southwest of Sucumbíos, where they killed four kichwas brothers during the repression against the uprising" against the economic policy of the government that expired Wednesday, commented Similcar.
Retailers located on the border confirm that for 20 years guerrillas and Colombian paramilitaries have been entering Ecuadorian territory to buy foods or clothes.
"They always come in dressed as civilians and they arrive to rest from combat in Colombia and to supply themselves with food and fuel" commented a retailer of General Farfán in the border zone.
Nevertheless, it is certain that with the implementation of the Colombia Plan violence in Putumayo increased and it is transferred to Ecuador.
"Along with the spraying (of illicit crops in Colombia) the performance of the AUC was increased, before that it was minimum, and now we must tolerate in dead silence the pipeline (that transports petroleum), and that the indigenous communities are displaced from their land", indicated the retailer.
Meanwhile, the prefect (governing provincial) of Sucumbíos, Luis Bermeo, stated that he convoked a general strike in the province for the 21st in protest against the Ecuadorian participation in the Colombia Plan that caused the "threat of death by the paramilitaries" against the communities.
"The national authorities plunged us into this mess and soon they disappeared. There is no project of development to resist the effects of the plan and there is no military action to that protects the communities from the actions of the paramilitaries", he argued.
Bermeo also denounced that the banana and coffee plantations and domestic animals of Ecuadorian establishments bordering on Colombia were affected by the aerial spraying of chemical products to eradicate the cocaine plantations in Colombian territory.