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Date: Tue, 23 Nov 1999 22:33:25 -0600 (CST)
From: EcoNet * IGC * APC <econet@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Colombian Indians Seize Oil Wells On Ancestral Homelands
Article: 82652
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.25307.19991124121518@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/* Written 5:35 PM Nov 21, 1999 by grbarry@students.wisc.edu in rainfor.general */
/* ---------- BIOD: Colombian Indians Seize Oil Wells ---------- */

Colombian Indians Seize Oil Wells on Their Ancestral Homelands

By Karl Penhaul, Reuters, 17 November 1999

BOGOTA, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Militant Colombian Indians have seized an area they claim as ancestral homelands to prevent a U.S. multinational from drilling for oil and pledged Wednesday to defend Mother Earth to the death.

Some 200 U'wa Indians occupied late Tuesday the Gibraltar-1 test site in the Samore block in northeast Colombia.

The 500,000 acre (209,000 hectare) exploration area is tipped to harbor up to 2.5 billion barrels of crude and could ensure the country's energy needs well into the next century.

Occidental Petroleum Corp <OXY.N> won approval in late September to begin drilling for crude there after a seven-year legal wrangle over indigenous land rights blocked work.

But in a strongly-worded communique issued Wednesday, Roberto Perez, head of the 5,000-strong U'wa community, called for Occidental and the government to shelve the plan for good.

We demand that the government and Occidental leave us in peace and cancel the project for oil drilling in this zone, Perez said.

The U'wa people are committed to give their lives to defend Mother Earth from this project which would destroy our culture, nature and world balance, he added.

Perez did not spell out what measures the U'wa were prepared to take but the community has, in the past, threatened to commit mass suicide if the oil industry encroached on what it considered ancestral lands.

Occidental's planned Gibraltar-1 test site lies just outside the government-recognized Indian reservation but inside an area that the U'wa claim as traditional tribal homelands.

In August, the government enlarged the U'was' official reservation almost fivefold to 543,000 acres (220,000 hectares). But the U'was, whose semi-nomadic ancestors roamed across the cloud forests and plains of at least three provinces in northeast and central Colombia, demand rights to a much larger territory.

Shannon Wright, spokeswoman for the U.S.-based Rainforest Action Network, said Wednesday that more U'wa Indians could pour into the area around Gibraltar-1.

International activists, grouped under the banner of the California- based U'wa Defense Working group, are also planning to join the protest.

Earlier this year, three American indigenous activisists were brutally murdered by leftist rebels as they worked with the U'was to help prevent Occidental encroaching on Indian lands.

The U'wa are at a critical juncture. Everything is calm right now but given that oil areas are the center of violent conflict there is significant concern that the U'wa could be caught in the crossfire (as a result of their protest), Shannon told Reuters.

An Occidental spokesman said the company was still evaluating the impact of the U'wa land occupation and declined to speculate on the possible consequences of the protest.

He said the U.S. multinational, which operates the 130,000 barrel- per-day Cano Limon field in northeast Arauca province, planned to sink the first test drill in Samore sometime next year.

The first exploration well is expected to be some 14,000 feet deep and cost some $30 million.