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Cablegate: Questions Abound On Whether Air Strike Hit Indigenous Territory

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INFO RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/FBI WASHINGTON DC
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
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RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

S E C R E T BOGOTA 000243 SIPDIS NOFORN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/02/12
TAG: PTER, MOPS, PINS, PREL, PGOV, PHUM, CO
SUBJECT: QUESTIONS ABOUND ON WHETHER AIR STRIKE HIT INDIGENOUS TERRITORY
REF: 10 BOGOTA 171
CLASSIFIED BY: Brian A. Nichols, Deputy Chief of Mission; REASON: 1.4(B), (C), (D)

SUMMARY -------

1. (S/NF) Post has received disparate accounts of a January 30 air strike carried out by the Colombia Air Force that occurred in an area inhabited by indigenous on the border of the Departments of Choco and Antioquia. Members of the Embera-Katio community told us the strike hit the Urada-Jiguamiando Reservation injuring a couple and their infant. However, Colombian Air Force officials said the strike occurred a few kilometers outside the reservation in a suspected Revolutionary of Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) camp. Leading newspaper "El Tiempo" reported a military judge is opening an investigation and the Colombian military has accepted responsibility for the incident, although they continue to argue the air strike was not on indigenous territory. Other information at Post suggests that the Colombian Air Force's version of events appears correct, although several details still remain unclear. What is certain is this incident will increase tensions between the GOC and the indigenous, who are facing an increase in conflict-related violence (septel). End Summary.

INDIGENOUS MAINTAIN MILITARY ERRED ----------------------------------

2. (C) On February 4, Poloff and USAID personnel met with XXXXXXXXXXXX of the Urada-Jiguamiando Reservatio XXXXXXXXXXXX, Embera-Katio indigenous member XXXXXXXXXXXX, and Legal XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX, to hear their versions of what happened during the January 30 incident. XXXXXXXXXXXX,  said the air strike landed on an indigenous family's property while they were cooking breakfast at 3:00 a.m. and injured three people: a mother, father, and their 20 day-old baby (a nine-year old son and aunt wer
e also present, but had no serious injuries). He also told us the father was hit by shrapnel in the spine and will be unable to walk, while the mother had shrapnel removed from her leg (see para . XXXXXXXXXXXX,, who visited the father in the hospital, confirmed he was in "serious" condition. The couple is currently being treated in a hospital in Medellin. XXXXXXXXXXXX, said the baby "looked" burned and was taken to a hospital in Apartado, Antioquia, after being treated by the 17th Brigade. He was concerned that the military took the baby and aunt to a military hospital without consulting the community members and that the baby remained separated from his mother.

3. (C) Both XXXXXXXXXXXX, and XXXXXXXXXXXX, rejected the Colombian Air Force's explanation that the strike targeted the FARC, although they admitted the FARC has transited the reservation in the past. They also argued that the FARC could not have been in the area because the military had entered the zone in December 2009. Moreover, XXXXXXXXXXXX, countered assertions by the Colombian military that there was no good reason for the indigenous to be awake so early by stating that this showed a lack of understanding of their culture and Embera-Katio people often rise well before dawn.

4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX, confirmed the Indigenous Organization in Antioquia (OIA), which initially denounced the incident, is preparing a formal complaint against the military personnel responsible for the operation. He told us the Embera-Katio want the military to assume the medical costs of the injured indigenous, provide reparations to the whole community, and leave their indigenous territories.

MILITARY SAYS STRIKE HIT OUTSIDE INDIGENOUS TERRITORY --------------------------------------------- --------

5. (C) General Tito Pinilla, Chief of Air Operations in the Colombian Military, told Emboffs on February 2 that the air strikes by the Seventh Division occurred 2.5 kilometers outside of the indigenous reservation on a suspected FARC
 camp. He said an indigenous man and woman with no licit reason for being in the camp had been injured in the raid. Pinilla also explained following the strike, a mother and her sick baby approached the convoy and were transported along with the suspected FARC members to receive medical assistance, which may have generated some confusion. However, he stated that neither the baby nor the mother had been injured in the strike.

INVESTIGATION TO FOLLOW -----------------------

6. (U) On February 9, leading newspaper "El Tiempo" reported that a military judge is opening an investigation. According to the article, the Commander of the 17th Brigade General Hernan Giraldo said the military "accepts responsibility of the incident," but he added the indigenous family strayed from their territory when they went out to collect food. He argued it was "bad luck" that the military had received information that the FARC's 34th Front would be at that site. General Giraldo mentioned it was the first time something like this had occurred in the 18 months they had been operating in the zone. In an interview with the National Radio of Colombia (RCN) on January 31, President Uribe declared that the Colombian military is "careful not to bomb civilian areas infiltrated by illegal armed groups" and cited the "few number of complaints against the military in the past eight years."

GLEANING THE TRUTH ------------------

7. (S/NF) Other information available at Post suggests that Pinilla's version of events is largely correct: a sensitive high-value target operation failed to hit the objective while he was at the site. Two indigenous, a male and female, were injured by debris (not shrapnel) resulting from the airstrike. It is not clear whether the injured female is, in fact, the mother referred to in para two; we separately confirmed Pinilla's report that a mother with a dehydrated infant did approach the military convoy before the incident to request medical assistance. Post was also able to co
nfirm that the strike was 2.5 kilometers from the village; GOC information suggests this was beyond the border of the indigenous reservation. According to other information available at Post, some members of the Embera-Katio community admitted to harboring FARC members just a few days prior to the strike.

8. (S/NF) Comment: The contradictory versions of events make it difficult to determine what happened. What is apparent is that the GOC has admitted some responsibility for the mistiming of the bombing. The FARC is increasingly operating in or around indigenous reservations because of the legal and political complications the reservations present for the Colombian armed forces (reftel). The Colombian military knew of the sensitivities of mounting an operation so close to the indigenous reservation, but believed it took the appropriate precautions. Perhaps the investigation by military justice will unravel the story. Either way, the incident will increase tensions between the GOC and the indigenous, who are facing an increase in conflict-related violence (septel). End comment. BROWNFIELD

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