Several social and campesino organizations have called for protests after at least eight people were killed during what campesinos say was an attack by state police forces on coca growers in the department of Tumaco, located in southwest Colombia.
In a press conference, Patriotic March, one of the organizers of the protest, said eight people were killed and 52 injured and called for national mourning in what it characterized as a massacre, demanding "a verification mission to uncover the truth about what happened."
A sit-in in front of the presidential palace to demand accountability will also include Voices of Peace, an organization monitoring the implementation of the peace accords.
Peasant associations representing those who witnessed the events say state police forces were responsible for the deaths. Prensa Rural said at least 9 people were killed, while other accounts list up to 16 people killed.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in a televised press conference did not address the claims by campesino witnesses but instead said that criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking didn't want the area to leave behind coca production. He also noted that it was a FARC territory, without explicitly blaming the group that has now transitioned to civilian life.
"We deeply regret what happened, we emphatically condemn these events," Santos said. "I express my condolences to the families of the citizens who died."
He said it was wrong that civilians were murdered, adding that an investigation was underway to "fully understand" what happened. Santos stated that there were six people dead and 19 injured.
In a communique, Voices of Peace urged the government to implement the integral agrarian reform that would distribute land more equitably. It said that the killings were not an isolated case, but are rather “due to the escalation of the confrontation between authorities, in particular, public police forces, with the people in the most marginalized areas of the country where families have had to resort historically to the cultivation of illicit crops to guarantee their vital minimums for survival.”
Organizaciones sociales de Tumaco desmienten a medios de "comunicación", afirman que Policía y FF.MM dispararon a comunidad movilizada. pic.twitter.com/9fs7vr5AyK— Rodrigo Londoño (@TimoFARC) October 6, 2017
A statement from local community action groups, posted by Rodrigo Londoño, the leader of FARC: "Social organizations of Tumaco reject the media claims, and say that police fired on the mobilized community members."
However, police have insisted on blaming the clash that over 50 injured on dissident FARC rebels rejecting the peace process in the department of Nariño, one of the hardest hit areas by state and drug trafficking violence.
Some of the victims suffered "headshots and several minors," the attorney general office said.
In a statement issued by the Ministry of Defense, authorities said the men, "threw at least five-cylinder bombs at members of the security forces and at the crowd, and then attacked with indiscriminate fire from rifles and machine guns at demonstrators."
There is no evidence of any planned explosion using five-cylinder bombs and the Association of Community Action Boards, Asominuma issued a statement rebuking the state's version of events.
"Peasant communities settled in the Alto Mira and Frontera area of the Llorente Corregimiento, Municipality of Tumaco, who have witnessed the last events in which 9 peasants were killed and 18 were injured, shows us the true reality of the unmeasured force against the defenseless peasants who were peacefully demonstrating," the statement read.
"After several days of resistance on the part of peasant communities," in an attempt to repress the revolting campesinos, the state used force and fired shots at the civilians, the statement continued.
The Asominuma statement also said that "the army and the police in an attempt to justify its excessive and irrational action," was "a clear violation of human rights."
The Community Council said that as a governing body, they feel threatened and would like to claim "our determined position in defense of life, autonomy and free development of our peoples."
They also said to the Colombian government that "the presence of the state can not only be seen from the militarization of the territories," but that there is an inter-institutional participation to guarantee the proper development and the good life of the communities.
On the other hand, the Alto Negro and Frontera Negro Community Council demanded that the Colombian government ensure the protection of the leaders of each community that integrates the organization.
Colombia's coca production increased 52 percent in 2016, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. That is, it went from 96,000 to 146,000 hectares, the figure reflecting the production nearly 15 years ago. The increased production was spread through the territories such as Putumayo, Norte de Santander and Nariño.
Authorities say that more than 115,000 families in 13 departments are willing to avail themselves of plans to voluntarily replace about 90,000 hectares of coca. At present, 21,902 families have been involved in this process.
But this program has not succeeded in curbing organized crime, as the groups in the region continue to fight over the crop.