February 13, 2000
Indians and police clash in Colombia over oil-drilling

                   LAS CANOAS, Colombia (AP) -- Leaders of a Colombian indigenous
                   tribe said they will not give in to a U.S. company's plans to drill for oil in
                   their traditional lands, even after riot police clashed with Indian protesters
                   blocking a road to the area.

                   "This is our land. We will not leave it," Roberto Perez, head of the U'wa
                   nation's council of leaders, said on Saturday.

                   There were reports from tribal leaders that as many as five children fell into a
                   fast-flowing river and may have drowned in the confusion after a clash. But
                   the reports could not be confirmed. No bodies have been found, and police
                   have denied reports of deaths in Friday's violence.

                   Reporters visiting the remote area in northeastern Colombia during the weekend
                   heard conflicting versions of what happened when police broke up the protest,
                   which highlights the intensity of a long-running dispute over the U'wa tribe's claim
                   to land it considers sacred.

                   For weeks, members of the tribe have occupied land just outside their
                   reservation on which the U.S. oil company Occidental Petroleum wants to
                   begin exploratory drilling.

                   Although the drilling site lies outside tribal lands, the U'wa say they believe
                   oil exploration would bring violence and destroy their culture.

                   About 150 riot police on Friday flew by helicopter to Las Canoas, 210
                   miles northeast of Bogota, to disperse the hundreds of Indians who had
                   blocked the dusty road leading to the Occidental drilling site.

                   The police fired tear gas at the protesters, who were armed with wooden
                   clubs and bows and arrows. Six Indians suffered cuts and bruises, while two
                   police agents suffered minor wounds from the tribe's metal-tipped arrows.

                    The highway was reopened in the mountainous region near the Venezuelan
                    border, and on Saturday construction trucks rolled past the scene of the previous
                    day's violence, heading for the site where Los Angeles-based Occidental hopes to
                    find up to 2 billion barrels of crude. The company could not immediately be
                    reached for comment.

                   Protesters lined the edge of the road facing a picket of riot police.

                   "I'm not moving. This is my land, and nobody is taking it from me," said
                   Pastor Bocota, who said his four-month-old daughter died after riot police
                   broke up the protest.

                   Communication with the U'wa is sometimes difficult because many of them
                   don't speak Spanish. But one Indian girl, 9-year-old Kesiowia Bocota, told
                   reporters through an interpreter that she had lost Pastor Bocota's baby while
                   trying to cross the river. The girl, who is not related to the man or the baby,
                   said the infant slipped from her arms.

                   Activists from the U.S.-based groups Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action
                   Network previously told reporters that three children had died during the

                   Regional police commander Col. Raul Cepeda, said that the incident would
                   be investigated, but U'wa leaders were unimpressed.

                   "They can say what they like, but it's their fault. They will have to pay for
                   these lives," said Ebaristo Cobaria, the tribe's legal adviser.

                   The clash pits the 8,000-member tribe against the energy needs of an oil-rich
                   country of 40 million people whose leaders say Colombia will have to import
                   oil within the next decade if it can't exploit its own reserves.

                    Copyright 2000 The Associated Press