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Colombian march against state and paramilitary killings arrives in Bogota after 350-mile trek

TRADE unionists and activists for indigenous, social, environmental and LGBT rights arrived in Bogota at the weekend after a 15-day, 350-mile protest march over the killing of social leaders.

The marchers arrived in Colombia’s capital shouting “We are being killed” and “Life will prevail.” Organisers said the march had complied with social distancing measures.

The march, which started in Popayan on June 25, passed through 22 municipalities, holding rallies to draw attention to the murder of hundreds of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) guerillas in defiance of a 2016 ceasefire and the ongoing killing of trade unionists and rights activists across the country.

So far in 2020 164 social leaders and 25 former Farc combatants have been killed, according to the march organisers.

On arrival it held a press conference in the Ciudad Bolivar district, where landless communities were violently evicted by Colombian authorities in May, denouncing the “systematic assassination of social leaders” and the eviction of families from their homes despite stay-at-home orders imposed because of coronavirus.

Participants also held a candle-lit march for victims of state and paramilitary killings on Saturday evening. They called on the Ivan Duque government to respect the peace deal signed with the Farc.

Colombian social justice activists accuse the military of risking a return to the murderous “false positives” scandal, in which Colombian troops killed an estimated 10,000 civilians, luring people to remote areas with offers of work and then murdering them and dressing them as guerillas in order to claim promotions and rewards.

Current army chief General Nicacio Martinez Espinel has been implicated in the scandal, and last year issued an order to troops to double the number of “insurgents” they killed or captured. Former army chief Mario Montoya outraged victims’ families earlier this year when he asserted his right to remain silent when questioned about the killings in court.

The protesters also denounced a rise in femicide and in attacks on LGBT Colombians, attacked the privatisation of the Colombian Petroleum Company and called for the withdrawal of US troops from Colombia.

US Southern Command deployed troops to the Latin American country in May, ostensibly to help Colombian troops suppress the illegal drug trade, but neighbouring Venezuela has accused Washington of preparing the ground for a military assault on it. 

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