Some 15 civilians were killed and more than 50 were injured when Colombian security forces opened fire during coca eradication operations in a hotly contested incident last week. Local cocaleros say a mixed force of army and National Police troops fired “indiscriminately” into a crowd of peaceful protesters, in what they are calling a “massacre.”
Police and military officials claim they fired in response to an attack by remnant FARC guerrillas under a renegade commander who goes by the alias “Guacho.”
The violence took place in an outlying area of coastal Tumaco municipality, in the southern department of Nariño.
Cocaleros, AKA coca growers, had gathered near the hamlet of Puerto Rico, in the Llorente corregimiento, to protest government efforts to destroy their coca crops in defiance of a “voluntary eradication” accord they had signed.
The National Police claimed the violence started when FARC guerrillas started throwing their notorious improvised “cylinder bombs” at troops in the midst of the protest. While the FARC is now officially disarmed, a few renegade factions have refused to accept the peace accord with the government.
But this version of events was rejected by the National Coordinator of Coca, Opium and Marijuana Producers (COCCAM), which denied any guerrillas were on the scene. COCCAM charged that the government created the conditions for violence by sending eradication forces into Llorente on Sept. 28.
The violence obviously poses a threat to the peace process with the FARC.
The head of the UN Special Mission in Colombia, Jean Arnault, said he “profoundly laments what happened yesterday in Tumaco,” and offered condolences to the victims’ families.
“In recent months this Mission has insisted that illegal economies represent a challenge to consolidating peace in Colombia and the tragic events yesterday reinforce our conviction,” he stated.
The government has called a verification commission to determine the facts of what happened at Llorente.