Tribe decries oil drilling at sacred land

Tribe decries oil drilling at sacred land

Hundreds of Bari Indians came from the hills yesterday in their first march to demand that the state-owned oil company stop drilling on sacred land abutting their reservation.

The 700 protesters rallied in one of Colombia’s most war-ravaged regions on Columbus Day — commemorated as “Dia de la Raza” or “Indigenous People’s Day” in much of Latin America — to remind the world that they have been decimated and forced into isolation by oil drilling.

“Don’t forget that this is our territory,” a Bari chieftain, 55-year-old Atrigbuanina, intoned as the Indians laid a plaque in front of Tibu’s heavily fortified police station. “Why is the Colombian state not respecting our rights?”

Ecopetrol, the state-owned oil company, is racing to find oil deposits so Colombia can avoid losing petroleum self-sufficiency by 2011. The company recently said it wants to sell a 20 percent share to a foreign investor to help spur exploration.

The Indians had hoped for a meeting in Tibu with a government delegation, but authorities canceled it abruptly, concerned the march had been infiltrated by rebels. Military and police leaders attended the march nonetheless.

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