Why were two US Army officials present at a meeting of displaced people?

(Translated by Rachel Kennedy, a CSN volunteer translator)

Two officials of the US Army, Lieutenant Colonel Christian Patrick and Major Richard Marzan took part in a meeting of the Comité Departamental de Atención a la Población Desplazada in Caquetá, on 10th May 2007 in the city of Florencia.

The meeting was called by the Governor Juan Carlos Claros Pinzón in order to find a solution to the serious situation faced by 360 displaced families of La Unión Peneya who were seeking guarantees to be able to return to their land.

The US Arnmy officials not only attended the meeting but also questioned the population for their objection to the setting up of a Police Barracks in the hamlet from which the return was to be organised. According to the community, a Police Barracks in the middle of the village would be a target for FARC guerillas and attacks, with gas canisters, could affect the civilian population. In these conditions, the displaced community  requested all parties to respect international humanitarian law rights and proposed that the police barracks be built on the edge of the village.

The US army personnel told the community and the local authorities that they should understand that “Farc is not at war with the police but with the community” and that they “know about war because they have been to Iraq where they learned that the strategy of the terrorists is to separate the population from the legitimate authorities” *- a strategy they believed should not be accepted in Colombia.

The population of Union Peneya was obliged to flee 3 years ago as a consequence of military operations and confronations between the Fuerza Publica and the FARC guerillas, and were stigmatized because of the village’s location in a zone of “guerilla influence”. The Comité Deparamental de Atención ( a legal body made up of the Agencia Presidencial para la Accion Social y la cooperacion Intenacional, the local civil authorities, military authorities the police and State organisations) is fully aware of the process of return.

The presence at this meeting of two uniformed officials belonging to foreign military constitutes unlawful interference in the internal affairs of the country and, in this case, in the management of humanitarian crises, such as the displacement of the civilian population in the middle of  the armed conflict.

The departament of Caqueta is the epicentre of the “Plan Patriota” and the “Plan Consolidacion” promoted by the Ministry of National Defence with the support of the Government of the United States, through the “Plan Colombia”. In these circumstances around 76 408 people were displaced between 1999 and 2006. These people were fleeing conflict, threats, illegal crop-spraying in addition to breaches of international humanitarian rights, attributed to the guerillas, and human rights violations attributed to the Colombian Army.

The presence of foreign troops in humanitarian areas is not a good sign for national sovereignity  The government and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs owe the country an explanation over this issue which has caused concern among the displaced communities and the civil organizations wich are working in this area.

 *These US soldiers seem to ignore the fact that the war in Colombia has been going on for more than 40 years!

Information from CODHES website.CODHES is and NGO working with displaced population in Colombia

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