Sunday, May 01, 2005

Colombia War Spills Into Indians' Peaceful World

TACUEYó, Colombia, April 28 - The Nasa Indians appear to live well on their lush reservation here in southern Colombia, a swath of mountains and valleys where sweet fruit grows, trout teem in fast-flowing creeks and colorful birds dart about.

They live in tidy, well-kept homes, growing coffee, bananas and beans. Emphasizing economic independence, they run a successful fish farm and are trying to strike up a marble mine.

The one major threat to their existence is Colombia's unrelenting civil conflict, which has ground on for 41 years. But the Nasa, an Indian nation that numbers about 100,000 in this region, has used a pacific civil resistance campaign to stay out of the drug-fueled war, which pits the army and right-wing paramilitaries against Marxist rebels intent on toppling the state.

For four years, the Nasa's stern-faced but unarmed Indigenous Guards - now a force of 7,000 men and women - have simply driven away the fighters who venture into these fog-shrouded mountains in Cauca Province. They confront rebel and soldier alike with ceremonial three-foot batons decorated with tassels in the colors of the Nasa flag, green and red, and persuade the outsiders to leave.

Their success has earned the acclaim of the United Nations and the foreign governments that pay for Nasa development programs.