Colombian Indians put guerrillas on trial

Four suspected members of Colombia’s FARC rebel group went on trial Thursday before a court of the Nasa Indians in the embattled southwestern province of Cauca.

The purported guerrillas were captured Wednesday in the mountains near the town of Toribio.

The governors of the 14 Nasa reserves, assisted by a council of elders, are presiding over the process, an official with the Association of Indigenous Governments of North Cauca, or ACIN, told Efe.

“People chosen the communities will be able to ask questions of the rebels,” Feliciano Valencia said, pointing out that the court is consistent with the Colombian Constitution’s guarantee of autonomy for the nation’s indigenous peoples.

Indigenous groups likewise have the right to exercise control over their designated territories and the Nasa, also known as the Paez, have recently mobilized to exercise that right by expelling both rebels and the security forces from their lands.

The trial of the purported guerrillas could last for hours or days, Valencia said by telephone from Toribio.

If convicted, they could face flogging, incarceration or – in the case of ethnic Nasa – exile.

The Nasa Indigenous Guard discovered the four suspected members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the mountains with rifles and explosives and took them to a jail in Toribio.

While most of the Nasa leadership was occupied with the trial of the rebels, the Indians also held talks Thursday with officials of President Juan Manuel Santos’ government, sent to Toribio to try to resolve the issues that led to clashes between security forces and the indigenous people in North Cauca.

One Nasa was killed and around 30 others injured Wednesday in incidents associated with an operation by riot police to evict scores of Indians from a hilltop military outpost in Toribio.

Elements of the Nasa Indigenous Guard – armed only with ceremonial batons – first occupied the post last week. On Tuesday, they bodily removed around 100 soldiers from the installation.

ACIN had set a deadline of midnight Monday for all “armed actors” to vacate the 14 Indian reserves in the region.

Intense fighting in Cauca between government forces and leftist FARC guerrillas has driven more than 2,800 indigenous and mestizo people from their homes in the past two weeks.

The Nasa are one of several Colombian indigenous groups to proclaim their neutrality in the internal armed conflict and demand that both sides leave them alone. EFE

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