Protests in Colombia have taken a violent turn after residents took 79 police officers hostage and two people died in the clash.
The residents of Colombia’s southern Caquetá province blockaded the compound of oil company Emerald Energy, a subsidiary of China’s state-owned company Sinochem. They also took nine oil field workers as hostages along with dozens of police officers.
The protesters have demanded help to repair and build new roads in the area. A police officer, Ricardo Monroy, and a civilian died during the blockade. President Gustavo Petro decried the killings in a statement on Twitter.
“We have a popular movement which by its exclusion and the influence of groups which want to destroy this government and subsume Colombia in war, has ended up murdering a young policeman,” Petro said.
“I expect from the perpetrators the unilateral liberation of government officials before a new escalation of violence is caused,” he added, saying the attorney general’s office should investigate the killings.
The violence erupted in part of the San Vicente del Caguan municipality, where members of rural and Indigenous communities blocked access to the oil field and set a fire. Both victims died from gunshot wounds, according to police sources.
Colombian officers paid tribute to Monroy on Twitter, writing that he “offered his life in the line of duty.”
Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman Carlos Carmargo has remained on site to mediate with the protesters, saying that he stopped them from throwing more Molotov cocktails at the oil facility.
Protests in areas close to oil and mining projects regularly occur in Colombia as communities push for companies to build infrastructure, including roads and schools.
Authorities in the country have raised concerns that a dissident group of FARC rebels, who rejected a 2016 peace deal, may be active in the region and provoking the unrest. The U.S. in 2021 delisted FARC as a foreign terrorist organization, arguing the group “no longer exists as a unified organization that engages in terrorism.”
Petro also separately demanded an investigation into his own son and brother for alleged corruption, but he did not specify the accusation, only saying, “My government will not give out benefits to criminals in exchange for bribes,” the BBC reported.
Reuters contributed to this report.