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Colombia’s Petro urges protesters to release police

#Colombias #Petro #urges #protesters #release #police

Colombian President Gustavo Petro on Friday called on Indigenous and rural protesters to release scores of police held hostage in the south of the country.

During a protest against oil company Emerald Energy in San Vicente del Caguan on Thursday, locals clashed with security forces.

A villager and a police officer were killed in the violence while protesters took 78 police and six employees of the oil company hostage, the defense ministry said.

An earlier statement from the rights ombudsman’s office had said there were 79 police and nine employees.

“I insist that the unilateral release of the police and the protection of their integrity is essential for the government,” Petro wrote on Twitter.

“There is no possibility of sitting down at the negotiating table while there are any members of the police being held,” Interior Minister Alfonso Prada told reporters before flying to San Vicente del Caguan, in the Caqueta department.

Images shared by the ombudsman’s office showed dozens of police officers and a few civilians in a large room with plastic seats.

Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez, who is also traveling to the area, told reporters that all the officers were “in good condition (and) have been given food, water.”

Protesters were demanding that Emerald Energy, which is based in Britain and is a subsidiary of Chinese group Sinochem, honors infrastructure commitments it made to the local community.

Protests against the oil company began in November, according to the Caqueta regional government, but tensions flared on Thursday when the local Indigenous guard joined demonstrators.

They are demanding that Emerald Energy fulfils a pledge to pave 40 kilometers (25 miles) of roads and build other projects.

Videos published on Thursday by local media showed the oil company’s premises on fire while the clashes took place.

Prada said the government had been mediating between the company and the villagers since February 11 in a bid to find a solution as protesters had on occasion set up roadblocks.

Asked whether armed groups could be involved in the protests, Prada cautioned against “stigmatization of the social peasant movement in Colombia.”

But he also warned of “falling into the stupidity of thinking that there are no (groups)… using the social movement for their own illegal interests.”

Petro urged prosecutors to “investigate and identify the criminals that provoked the deaths in Caqueta.”

The public prosecutor’s office said it would investigate “murders, kidnappings and other violence” linked to the protests.

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#Colombias #Petro #urges #protesters #release #police

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