Colombian Military Invades U'WA Tribe's Legal Territory to Protect OXY'S Oil Project

U'WA DEFENSE WORKING GROUP

For more information, contact:

Ada Recinos at +1.510.473.7542 or ada@amazonwatch.org


Today's meeting between President Clinton and Colombian President Andrés
Pastrana in Washington to discuss increased US military funding drew
criticisms from international human rights groups concerned about the recent
militarization of the U'wa people's legal, traditional lands. Just days
ago, the Colombian armed forces were sent to the U'wa land in order to
secure the area for oil drilling by US oil giant Occidental Petroleum (OXY).
The U'wa fear that the current stand-off on their land could lead to
violence against their tribe by the US-supported Colombian military.

According to a communiqué issued by the U'wa people and information from the
Colombian military, since January 19, at least 500 – and as many as several
thousand – Colombian soldiers have been occupying an area of the traditional
territory to which the U'wa have recently gained legal title. The soldiers
have encircled the 250-plus U'wa people who since mid-November have
maintained a peaceful encampment at the site in order to block the planned
oil drilling by Occidental. Known as Gibraltar 1, this site just borders
the newly expanded Unified U'wa Reserve. The U'wa recently obtained title
to the 2 farms directly where Occidental hopes to drill. Under the
Colombian Constitution, Indigenous lands cannot be expropriated.

"We prefer genocide at the hands of the Colombian government over
relinquishing our Mother Earth to the oil companies," states the U'wa
communiqué.

According to additional U'wa field reports yesterday, Occidental is planning
to use armed military personnel to construct the drill site. The U'wa also
report that Occidental has directly instructed the military brigade to block
members of the U'wa tribe from entering or leaving the occupation site,
isolating community members from their tribal leaders. The company and the
military have also reportedly prohibited the use cameras in the area.

"The truth here in Colombia is that the military is being used to suppress
peaceful Indians and protect US oil companies," stated a spokesperson by the
U'wa tribe by phone.

The U'wa people's campaign to protect their land from oil exploration has
once again reached international headlines this week in the Financial Times
and Time magazine as Vice President Gore's $500,000 stocks in and extensive
campaign contributions from Occidental have come under public scrutiny.
"Gore can make the difference. He can save the U'wa and avert a public
relations disaster for himself by intervening now," said Atossa Soltani of
Amazon Watch. Protests are planned at Gore campaign stops in New Hampshire
later this week.

U'WA DEFENSE WORKING GROUP is endorsed by the following organizations:
Action Resource Center, Amazon Watch, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund,
EarthWays Foundation, Indigenous Environmental Network, Project Underground,
Rainforest Action Network, Sol Communications, U'wa Defense Project,
International Law Project for Human Environmental and Economic Defense.

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