Isolated Indians targeted by rebels and army

April 28, 2008

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One hundred and thirty Nukak Indians, some of the last nomadic Indians in the Amazon, have fled their rainforest homes after becoming caught up in Colombia’s civil war. The group make up around a third of the surviving Nukak population, and are now camping on the outskirts of the town of San José.

After fighting two years ago between the army, paramilitaries and left-wing FARC rebels in their remote territory, the Indians had hoped that their rainforest home was now safe. Those hopes have been dashed. Many of the Indians fleeing the current fighting have never left the rainforest before.

In the latest incidents, FARC rebels shot at Nukak Indians and forcibly displaced seven families from their homes after a Nukak man was used by the Colombian army to locate a rebel settlement. All sides are fighting for control of the lucrative coca crop, the raw material for cocaine. The remoteness of the Nukak territory makes it an ideal location for growing coca.

The latest Nukak exodus comes after the recent death of the oldest surviving Nukak woman, Ewapa. Her husband, Kerayi, the oldest Nukak man, described the future for his people as ‘bleak’. Most Nukak of middle age and above had already died from the devastating illnesses that swept the tribe after they were first contacted in 1988. More than half the population have now died.

Ewapa died from malaria and malnutrition after fleeing the jungle because of the civil war. She spent the last years of her life in San José, where she was desperately unhappy. She found it difficult to eat and by the time of her death had grown extremely thin.

Survival’s director, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘The Nukak simply want to live in peace, in their own territory. They have nothing to do with Colombia’s civil war, yet the army and guerrillas seem incapable of leaving them alone. Contact with the outside world has brought the Nukak tribe twenty years of misery, death and exile.’

For more information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]