Miners ordered to hand back land to natives in Colombia

Date of publication: 
26 September 2014

A Colombian legal tribunal ordered 11 gold mining companies this week to stop operations in the northwest of the country and return the land to Embera Katio tribe, which used to live in the area.

The ruling, RCN reports, is the first of its kind in the South American nation. It restores a 50,000-hectare in the West coast Choco department to the about 7,300 Embera people, which were forced out over the past five years by illegal and violent armed groups.

The decision orders the National Mining Agency, in coordination with the military, to “remove people from outside the community who are carrying out mining activities within the reserve,” a unit of Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said in a statement Thursday.

The ruling rescinds any titles and concessions to the area held by companies, include South Africa’s AngloGold Ashanti, and local firms Exploraciones Choco Colombia, Gongora and El Molino.

According to the United Nations, the coal and gold-rich country has 87 native tribes, with a bit over 1.3 million members. They are said to be at risk of disappearing because of Colombia’s half-century armed conflict between the government and the FARC, also known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has killed over 200,000 people and displaced millions.

President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon said Thursday his government believes the country would soon be at peace. He has already made peace deals with the FARC and the National Liberation Army, another rebel group, his top political priority.

“If we achieve this —a goal that Colombians have unsuccessfully sought for so long — then there is hope for peace in any part of the world, despite how difficult things can seem right now,” he said in a speech addressing the UN General Assembly.

Santos took the oath of office last month for a second four-year term vowing to finally end the conflict, after an election campaign widely viewed as a referendum on the peace process.