The Colombian Ombudsman's Office has determined that members of the national police — not dissident FARC guerrillas or local gangs as the government had earlier alleged — were responsible for the killing of campesinos in the southern town of Tumaco on Oct. 5.
At least eight were killed and over 50 people injured during the assault, where protesters had said from the beginning that they were attacked and fired upon by the police.
Four police officers have now been suspended for their involvement in the deaths, according to El Tiempo.
The national police announced that due to “the seriousness of the events that occurred last Thursday and in the interest of absolute transparency of the investigation led by the Attorney General Office” the institution's general inspector applied “disciplinary suspension to four soldiers who allegedly fired their firearms.”
Social and campesino movement groups have called for a special commission to verify victims' testimony, while the ombudsman's office has urged the attorney general to undertake a special investigation into the deadly attack.
Last week, roughly 1,500 demonstrators emerged from the villages of Sonadora, Restrepo, Vallenato, El Divorcio Playon and El Tandil, as well as Awa Indigenous people, to participate in the protest against the forced eradication of coca crops and the federal government's non-compliance with the National Program for the Substitution of Crops for Illicit Use.
After the brutal attack, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos held a televised press conference where he ignored claims made by campesino witnesses who explicitly said they were attacked by police. Instead, he affirmed 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."
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.”
On Sunday, Indigenous broadcaster Efigenia Vasquez Astudillo was killed during clashes between the Esmad and the Kokonuko community in Purace, Cauca, Colombia. Esmad officers reportedly sprayed the Indigenous group with gas as they attempted to evict them from territory at the center of a dispute.
The Kokonuko community says the land, which includes the tourist resort of "Aguas Tibias," is their traditional homeland.
Also on Sunday, Colombia's Justice and Peace Organization says a human rights mission was attacked by members of the security forces in Tandil, a village in Tumaco, as they approached the site of the Oct. 5 massacre. Journalists were also caught up in the shooting.
The police fired shots and grenades at the group as they attempted to enter the area, according to the Office of the Public Defender.