Wednesday, January 24, 2007

COLOMBIA REFLECTION: We are here to listen


Welcome to the those who joined the Peace Witness Action list over the weekend!  We are now 630 strong!

Here is an item from Christian Peacemaker Teams, a reflection about work in Colombia. This story provokes: How might you be led to speak up about the military's presence or influence in your own community?  What might you accomplish with gentle presence, committed listening and direct speech?

Matt Guynn
On Earth Peace


CPTnet ~
24 January 2007
COLOMBIA REFLECTION: We are here to listen
by Shirley Way

We do not come to spread the good news of Christ through words.  We do not preach.  We do not proselytize.  We go where we are invited--where communities believe our joining with them may be helpful in their quest for peace, for recognition of their basic human rights, for the right to live without threat of violence or death and the right to organize

On a recent visit to the mining zone in southern Bolivar, Julian Gutierrez and I listened as a priest spoke of the threat he feels from the military occupation of his village.  The priest works closely with the small-scale gold miners of the region who are threatened by the Colombian military.  At his request, we walked with the priest through the village--demonstrating to the armed forces that an international peace organization is concerned about him and the miners.

During the previous week, soldiers camped on the soccer court on parish grounds.  The priest and others spoke of soldiers seeking to seduce or coerce young women and girls and of the resulting trauma and abortions.

The Colombian armed forces are at war with the guerrilla groups--also present in the region.  Two units have set up encampments in the village.
We spoke with the lieutenant and soldiers from the temporary unit.

"You understand that your presence here--camping between civilian homes, walking the streets--puts the people of the town at risk?" I asked.  The lieutenant said he understood but they would remain there until a unit to replace them arrived.  Others said they needed to be close to a water source, which the town provided, that camping outside the town was not practical.  The lieutenant asked when we would be leaving.

Colombian armed forces have similarly occupied a neighboring village is similarly occupied.  Before dawn, Julian and I climbed into the cab of a privately operated transport pick-up truck.  Just outside of town, about twenty national police lined the road and flagged the driver.  He stopped, complaining that this unit does this everyday.  They stopped him, climbed in the back of his truck and rode for about half an hour, putting his life and those of his other civilian passengers at risk.

We explained to the driver who we were and described the work of CPT.  We asked if he would like us to speak with the police.  He nodded.  The commander of the unit was surprised that an international organization cared about the violation of international humanitarian law he and his unit had committed by riding in a civilian vehicle and that we were concerned for the driver's safety and those of his passengers.  He said the driver chose to allow them to ride with him.  We pointed out that twenty armed men climbing in the back of one's truck did not seem to allow space for "no."

A CPT delegation will visit these villages again very soon.  May the listening and dialogue continue.


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