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In February, the San José de Apartadó peace community in Colombia experienced a terribleloss at the hands of the Colombian military. Rose Anderson reports.

We will not forget

A Sombre Journey

On 25 February, a group of around 200 community members, accompanied by members of Peace Brigades International and the Fellowship for Reconciliation, set out to collect and bring home the bodies of those murdered, hoping to bring a sense of closure to the pain caused by this tragedy. The group was to function as a sort of truth commission, documenting the facts surrounding the deaths in hopes that those responsible will eventually be brought to justice.

”The one thing we know is that we will not forget. All of the murdered live on in us. Our companions and leaders died for a worthy cause: to dream of another life, one where we can live together without terror, for ourselves and our children.”

Increasing aggression

Acts of aggression and violence against the San Jose' community and other surrounding communities on the part of the Colombian Army have been increasing in recent months.

On 20 February a Colombian Army member entered the house of Gladys Guzma'n Palacios in Las Nieves (about four hours from San Jose') and began shooting. In the house was a four-year old girl, Diana Marcela, who was wounded and sent to hospital. Diana's father, a FARC member, died from gunshot wounds.

On 22 February army helicopters bombarded the villages of Bellavista, Alto Bonito and Buenos Aires, an area in which around 200 farmers and peasants live.

Presidential demands

President Uribe has repeatedly tried to implement a military presence within the community, ignoring their demands that it be free of any armed actor, whether it be state, paramilitary, or guerrilla. Uribe has used the community's refusal to accuse them of being associated with the guerrillas, and thus refuses to launch any investigation of the assassination of community members, or of human rights violations. Uribe has also threatened international volunteers with arrest and deportation.

Blockades as weapons

The paramilitaries routinely block the transport of crops to and from San Jose', in their attempts to further undermine the peace community's efforts. In response to this, on 22 October 2004 the community created a “caravan” from San Jose' down to the town of Apartado', with groups of community members and witnesses from FOR, PBI, and other organisations (see box) in order to ensure that the people would be able to trade and transport their cocoa and bananas without being apprehended by the paramilitaries.