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Armed with sticks, Colombia's Nasa tribe attacks a military base

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Courtesy of ElTiempo/Reuters

(Read caption) The Nasa indigenous people, who live in the Cauca region, participate in a demonstration to demand that the military and the FARC abandon their ancestral lands in Toribio on Tuesday, July 17.

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• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

The Nasa tribe in Colombia has long been caught in the crossfire between government and FARC attacks. As the fighting has increased in recent months, the tribe has asked both sides to leave the area.
 
The Colombian government has based much of its security strategy around territorial control and protection of populations. Security gains in recent years have come due to increased security presence in population centers. They believe that removing the military from the area would cede ground to the FARC and be a step back in terms of security.
 
This led to an odd event yesterday in which the indigenous, armed only with sticks, attacked a Colombian military outpost. The Colombian military, to its credit and with a bit of role-reversing irony, did not retaliate with violence and actually engaged in some non-violent resistance strategies to try to prevent their removal from the base (BBC, El Tiempo).

How much sovereignty do indigenous have over their territories? In recent years, it's a question we've seen play out in Bolivia with plans to develop a road through the TIPNIS reserve, in Ecuador with water rights, and in Peru with fights over development in the Amazon that left dozens dead in Bagua. Questions about national vs local control, particularly of indigenous areas, are often tense and are made even worse by the presence of a third party criminal/terrorist/guerrilla group like the FARC who are also trying to control territory.
 
In Colombia, the question is whether an indigenous group can request that government security forces completely leave its territory. In some ways, though not formally, it's a request for sovereignty or even secession from the country's government. In this situation, the Colombian government is left with two bad choices: leave the area and perhaps allow the FARC to gain further control or engage in some sort of repression against the indigenous group so that the security forces can stay.
 
The fact yesterday's confrontation occurred without a single death is remarkably positive given the tensions. The less violence, the better. I think the Colombian government understands that they need to find a non-violent way out of this confrontation without giving up territory or control to the FARC in the process. They should accept mediation and negotiations and work with the community to find the right balance.

James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant based in Managua, Nicaragua, who runs Bloggings by Boz.


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