Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has called for an investigation into the murders of almost 300 land and human rights leaders killed in the past two years while promising to improve their protection.
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From Tumaco, Nariño, Santos said: "I instructed the Ministry of Defense to send inspectors to the police and armed forces in Nariño and Cauca to monitor what is happening... because this has to be a joint effort." He's also sending Ministry of Interior staff to investigate.
The decision by the outgoing president comes as Ombudsman Carlos Alfonso Negret announced that between January 1, 2016, and July 5 of this year, 273 Colombian Indigenous, rural social leaders were murdered.
Most of the killings took place in regions where illegal mining and illicit crops are rampant. The departments of Cauca (78), Antioquia (43), Norte de Santander (21), Nariño (18), the Cauca Valley (16) and Choco (16) had the highest homicide rates.
As part of the 2016 peace agreement with the disarmed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Santos administration was supposed to set up mechanisms to protect rural land rights advocates.
Instead, the lack of government presence and support there has allowed paramilitaries to step in and extort or murder human rights leaders.
Santos has demanded that security forces be present in the areas where such crimes are common. He said the Ministry of Defense will be monitoring the military and national police, who have been ordered to protect social movement leaders.
Santos posted on Twitter that he has convened a meeting with the Ministry of Interior on July 9, saying that the national attorney general "has important results" without giving details.
The president also said his administration will "act with full force against those who attack social leaders."
In response, former Colombian President Ernesto Samper reminded the Santos government to enact the 2016 peace accords, meant to protect social leaders.
"At the rate we are going when the new administration takes over, 32 more social leaders will have been killed. One per day. In the agreements of Havana, wasn't there a Protection Unit agreed upon for these people? What the fuck is he doing? #NosEstanMatando"
Samper tweeted: "At the rate we are going when the new administration takes over, 32 more social leaders will have been killed. One per day. In the agreements of Havana, wasn’t there a Protection Unit agreed upon for these people? What the fuck is he doing?"
Former leftist presidential candidate Gustavo Petro demanded that incoming President-Elect Ivan Duque speak up against the rise in murders.
"I demand of you @IvanDuque to speak out against the murders of our militarized policies. Your silence empowers the murderers," Petro tweeted. His former campaign coordinator, Ana Maria Cortes, who was also a human rights leader, was murdered in Antioquia on Wednesday.