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15/11/2012 describe the armed thugs driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes as businesses hunt for precious minerals.

Campaigners Alex Ginanga (left) and Robert Daza

ARMED thugs are driving terrified families from their homes in Colombia as big businesses hunt for precious minerals, campaigners have warned.

Human rights activists visited Scotland last week to warn of a disaster in the South American country s hundreds of thousands of people are forced to flee and their land is poisoned.

Robert Daza Guevara said the indigenous Awa people have faced violence and intimidation, their women attacked and their children kidnapped by paramilitaries.

And he told how nine campesinos – agricultural workers – were massacred in June last year. He added: “An unknown group arrived and shot indiscriminately.”

Guevara was publicising a report that exposes how the fight for minerals has devastated vast areas and resulted in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people.


Campaigners Alex Ginanga (left) and Robert Daza

The study, due out tomorrow, was organised by ABColombia, a project backed by five charities who operate in the country, including the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund. It focuses on the Colombian government’s rapid expansion of its economy based on the mining of coal, gold and copper.

Their goals for 2021 are to double coal exports, quadruple gold and triple the mining sector. ABColombia say 35 per cent of Colombian territory is at risk from mining and 64 groups of indigenous people, including the Awa, face extinction.

And they say about 40 per cent of Colombia’s drinking water is at risk of contamination.


An illegal mine on cleared lands in Yuto, Choco region

The environmental catastrophe is made worse by illegal armed groups who are hired by mining firms to attack people who protest against them. UK-registered firms are some of the largest investors in Colombia’s mining sector.

In 2002, Guevara was forced to leave his home in Pasto, Narino, because of threats made by paramilitary groups. But he returned in 2005 and bravely campaigns for Awa rights. He is now opposing a large-scale mining operation proposed for the region.

He said: “In my small community, there were another 60 families displaced and 16 people were killed. All of this happened in complicity with police. In my community now, there is an ongoing exploration project.

“Animals are killed because they have drunk contaminated water from the mines. Water for human consumption has decreased.

“There have been threats and attacks against members of the community by security forces.”

The Awa were hunter-gatherers who moved around south-western Colombia. But the size of land they have access to has greatly reduced.

Guevara said: “The campesinos have spent decades caring for the land and reforesting it. All of this will be destroyed with mining.”

Awa leader Alex Guanga Nastacuas, who also visited Scotland, said: “The grave situation is the contamination of rivers and the destruction of areas local families use for their crops.

“Illegal armed groups take Awa children away to fight once they are 12 years old. The Awa are at risk of extinction.”

The plight of Colombia’s indigenous people comes on top of the 5.5million
people SCIAF say have been forced from their home because of civil war and drug related violence.


REproduced from…