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Date: Thu, 30 Dec 1999 10:29:58 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: ENVIRONMENT-COLOMBIA: Indigenous Group Takes Protest Abroad
Article: 85732
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.14549.19991231091506@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Indigenous Group Takes Protest Abroad

By María José Llanos, IPS, 29 December 1999

BOGOTA, Dec 29 (IPS) - Representatives of the Embera Katio indigenous community in Colombia plan to travel to Canada, the United States and Norway, which are financing the Urra dam, to demand that the flooding of their land be stopped.

The national government has failed us, and the only option left is to urge officials in the countries taking part in the project to do something to stop the filling of the dam, said Jimmy Pernia, spokesman for the 170 indigenous men, women and children camping out on the grounds of the Environment Ministry in protest since Dec 11.

If we fail to obtain the hoped-for results from the Canadian, US and Norwegian governments, the Embera Katio community will take the case to the relevant international forums, he told IPS.

The filling of the Urra dam, which began in early November, has seriously affected the indigenous community, wiping out more than 7,000 hectares of bananas and other crops and flooding the group's most fertile land, said Pernia, his community's adviser on land questions in the region of Alto Sinu, in the northern department of Cordoba.

Environment Minister Juan Mayr confirmed Wednesday that the filling of the dam would go ahead, because the requirements of the Constitutional Court ruling on the case have been observed.

In 1998, the Constitutional Court ordered the company that built the dam, Urra Multiproposito, to reach resettlement agreements with local indigenous communities, peasant farmers and fisherfolk.

The court also specified that locally-affected residents were to receive a share of the revenues arising from the dam.

The traditional territory of the Embera Katio Indians stretches over some 460,000 hectares in the Nudo de Paramillo nature reserve and the Sinu river basin.

According to Pernia, the Urra dam is an ecological crime and destroys cultural traditions like the conservation of sacred areas such as Indian cemeteries.

Mayr, meanwhile, said the government of Andrés Pastrana planned to grant the indigenous group more than 12,000 hectares in exchange for the 400 to be flooded by the dam.

But Pernia replied that the area submerged would be much greater than the minister claims, and that his community would be evicted from its land - not just from the area flooded - meaning it would need to be awarded 33,000 hectares of arable land just to survive.

The Embera Katio living in the area to be affected by the dam number 2,400. The area is also home to 25,000 peasant farmers and fisherfolk.

Guillermo Tasc¢n, a representative of the Embera Katio in the northwestern department of Antioquia, said his community's perseverance is the only weapon it has to fight for the preservation of a territorial and cultural space for itself.

The 170 indigenous protesters marched 1,000 kilometres to demonstrate outside the Environment Ministry, where they have set up improvised tents.

Pernia said the protesters would remain in the area as long as necessary, even through Minister Mayr has ordered that our drinking water supply be cut off.

Mayr said the government was studying follow-up mechanisms for the search for an agreement with the group.