News ID: 313521
Published: 0118 GMT May 31, 2021

UN urges independent probe as Colombia unrest death toll rises

UN urges independent probe as Colombia unrest death toll rises
Anti-government protesters clash with police in Gachancipa, Colombia, on May 7, 2021.

Colombia’s government resumed negotiations with demonstrators to end more than a month of protests Sunday, as the UN called for an independent investigation after at least 13 people died in clashes in the city of Cali.

President Ivan Duque’s team and some of the demonstration representatives resumed talks in Bogota after nearly a week’s pause, according AFP.

But a resolution seemed far off, as the protesters denounced the Duque administration's "complicit silence" in the face of "excessive" use of force by law enforcement.

The government responded that an agreement could be reached once the blockades choking up the country's transport infrastructure are lifted.

In just over a month of unrest, 59 people have died across Colombia according to official data, with more than 2,300 civilians and uniformed personnel injured.

The NGO Human Rights Watch says it has "credible reports" of at least 63 deaths nationwide.

The crackdown by the armed forces on the anti-government protests has drawn international condemnation, and on Sunday UN Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet voiced "deep concern" over the ongoing violence.

Clashes in Cali, Colombia's third-largest city and one of the major centers of the protests, pitted police against armed civilians late Friday, leaving 13 dead, according to officials.

Calling for an investigation, Bachelet's office said it had received reports that 14 people had been killed, and that 98 people were injured, 54 of them by firearms.

It added it had been told that armed individuals, including an off-duty judicial police officer, had opened fire on demonstrators, journalists covering the protests, and passers-by.

The policeman was subsequently beaten to death by a crowd, it said, and in parts of Cali civilians were seen firing shots at demonstrators as police looked on.

"It is essential that all those who are reportedly involved in causing injury or death, including state officials, are subject to prompt, effective, independent, impartial and transparent investigations," Bachelet said in a statement, calling for those responsible to be held accountable.

In Cali, as across the country, poverty, joblessness, inequality and the fallout from the coronavirus epidemic have sparked widespread anger and resentment.

The protests, which began on April 28, were initially against a proposed tax increase Colombians said would leave them poorer even as they struggled with pandemic-related losses of income.

The proposal was quickly withdrawn, but the protests morphed into a wider denunciation of the government and the armed forces.

Barricades have been kept burning countrywide and blocked dozens of key roads, causing shortages of many products.

According to authorities, over 85 blockades have been set up throughout the country, mainly in the vicinity of Cali.

Duque has deployed 7,000 troops across the country to help clear and patrol the blockaded roads.

Thousands also marched in Bogota on Sunday to demand an end to protests and roadblocks, as well as to express support for security forces, Reuters reported.



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