Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Tuesday he is ready to meet with leaders of the Nasa people, who seek the withdrawal of both security forces and leftist rebels from Indian lands in the southwestern province of Cauca.
Santos is expected to travel Wednesday to the main Nasa reserve, La Maria, where more than 15,000 indigenous people have been gathered since last weekend.
The president’s announcement represents a victory for the Nasa, also known as the Paez, who have been demanding direct talks with the head of state after years of fruitless negotiations with lower-level officials.
Colombia’s 1991 constitution guarantees autonomy for the nation’s indigenous peoples and gives them the right to exercise control over their officially designated territories.
Like most of the indigenous groups, the Nasa say they want no part of the Andean nation’s decades-long armed conflict. Last month, the Nasa declared themselves in “permanent resistance” with the aim of expelling security forces and guerrillas from their lands.
Intense fighting in Cauca between government forces and the FARC rebel group drove more than 2,800 indigenous and mestizo people from their homes in July.
Interior Minister Federico Renjifo was in La Maria on Tuesday to lay the groundwork for Santos’ visit.
The minister informed residents of “the presence tomorrow of President Santos,” Feliciano Valencia, counselor of the Association of Indigenous Government of North Cauca, told Efe. EFE