Hostage Crisis in Southern Colombia: 79 Police Officers Taken
At least 79 police officers were taken hostage in southern Colombia on Thursday during a violent protest by farmers against a Chinese-owned oil company. ACP, the Colombian Oil and Gas Association, issued a statement denouncing the violent incidents at Capella A, part of the Ombu block, that have been happening over the last 40 days and have caused blockages.
The unrest between protesters and the police started after a group of Colombian protestors broke into an oilfield owned by Emerald Energy—a subsidiary of Sinochem Group, also known as the China National Chemical Corporation. Caqueta province in southern Colombia is home to the oilfield.
Videos shared on social media depict the incident on Thursday in which unarmed police were forcibly loaded onto a truck and taken away. A breach of the field owned by Emerald Energy, a subsidiary of Sinochem, caused a conflict to start between communities and the police. In protest of the government and Emerald reportedly not fulfilling their promise of road repairs for over a year, Caracol Noticias reported that they set installations on fire.
The rioting resulted after farmers blockaded a road near the compound of Emerald Energy. ESMAD, the anti-riot squad of the National Police, initiated the act of clearing the area in order to guard the people working inside the facility. In response, the demonstrators lit several structures on fire and started to pillage. Nine oilfield workers of Emerald Energy were apprehended by the Indigenous Guard prior to being taken hostage. The clashes resulted in the death of one police officer and a civilian.
On Friday, President Gustavo Petro tweeted that Minister of Defense Ivan Velasquez will be heading the efforts to put a stop to the violence in San Jose del Caguan. He shared two tweets, imploring the Red Cross to aid those kidnapped and attributing the aggression to “groups that want to destroy this government and plunge Colombia into war.”
ACP reports that the field is producing 2,000 barrels of oil daily, and has lost a total of 80,000 barrels since the start of the protests. Velasquez, the Defense Minister, spoke from Caqueta and declared that the government will not initiate negotiations with the protesters until the hostages are freed. Sinochem failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.
The incident in Colombia is a stark reminder of the tense situation between the government and the country’s rural communities as they struggle with a lack of resources.
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