At least 31 indigenous people hurt in Colombia following armed attack


BOGOTA (Reuters) - At least 31 indigenous people were wounded in southeast Colombia on Thursday after an illegal armed group opened fire on them while they destroyed crops of coca, the chief ingredient in cocaine, an organization representing the community said.

The attack took place in the rural municipality of Caldono, in Colombia's Cauca province.

The region is a strategically important for drug trafficking and is disputed by armed groups including dissidents of the demobilized Farc guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and other criminal organizations made up of former right-wing paramilitaries.

"So far 31 indigenous people have been reported injured and five attackers have been detained by the Indigenous Guard," the Regional Council of Indigenous in Cauca (CRIC) said in a statement.

Efforts to eradicate coca crops and attacks against members of the community are ongoing, meaning the number of injured could rise, CRIC added, describing indigenous communities in the region as victims of state absence.

Illegal armed groups fight for territorial control of strategic areas for growing coca and the production of cocaine, according to the government and security sources.

On Tuesday, indigenous governor Sandra Liliana Peña Chocue - who opposed coca crops in indigenous lands - was assassinated in the same region.

Colombia's government condemned the attacks against the indigenous communities.

"It's reprehensible that criminals are raging against indigenous communities and ... against women who defend their territory from the presence of illicit economies that threaten the integrity of young people and the purity of soils," Emilio Archila, the presidential adviser for implementing the peace deal, said in a statement.

Colombia, with its geographically strategic position surrounded by two oceans, is considered the world's biggest cocaine producer.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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