TIBU, Colombia -- 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.