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This will be my last report from Colombia. I will continue to write messages about peace, from my home. If you do not want to recieve them, reply with remove in the body of the letter, Thanks again for your interest. shalom, Jim Fitz

Big waves in Opon 1/6/04

Hello,
On Dec. 1st a small barge went up the Opon River filled up barrels and barge with fuel which they stole from the pipe line. The thieves were most likely Colombian gas Mafia Paramilitaries, both illegal groups. On their return they evidently got scared the Guerrillas might attack them so they took what they could and left the barge on the River. The river went down, which caused the barge to sink. Since then the fuel has been polluting the river, causing a real ecological disaster. This contaminates the water supply of the farmers that we accompany on the Opon. CPT discovered this on Dec. 2 and reported it to the authorities,but CPT was unable to get them to do something to stop the polluting. Now the amount of fuel being expelled is down to a trickle as the supply runs out, and we thank God for that.

On December 15, Colombian Mafia-Paramilitaries took another barge with a crane to try to pull out the sunken barge, and in the night, the guerrillas attacked them. This resulted in an explosion which incinerated the tugboat and whoever was in it. The report is that there were four persons on the tugboat. There were three large puddles of blood next to where the barge was docked. Three bodies have since been found floating down the river, and we are on the lookout for more. Just before this happened the Paramilitaries went to a farm and, in front of the family, murdered one of their workers. Again CPT reported this mess to the authorities.

This time we got some action quickly. On December 17 the following organizations sent representatives to investigate: the Defensoria (government human rights watch dog) and numerous human rights organization, the press, the TV, four navy boats, and a big tugboat to try to get the two sunken vessels out. They were not able to pull them out. This has put the Opon, a place almost all the above until now feared to visit, on the map.

On December 18, the Defensor returned to recover two of the bodies and met with the farmers for the first time. He is very concerned for the plight of the farmers, and his making direct involvement with them could be a real milestone in changing the security for the better for the farmers.

It is important to note the plight of the farmers on the Opon,They fear that they will now be accused by the Guerrillas and Paramilitaries of helping their opponents and interrupting their illegal activities, which could mean some serious consequences for the farmers. This puts a lot of pressure on the farmers to displace (abandon their farms), which is in some ways what the Paramilitaries and Guerrillas would welcome, so they can do whatever they wish unseen.

We are keeping a constant presence in the area, and the farmers keep telling us, ¨We are so glad you are here, and if you weren’t, all of us would have by now abandoned our farms.” This crisis has pulled all the farmers together to support each other more also. They seem to be thinking less about abandoning their farms, and more about how they can band together to stay on their land.

We are glad we have begun to practice praying with the farmers. I sense this has helped to calm their fears. Your support in prayer and your thoughts are an important part of our effectiveness at this time. Keep it up.

In a study done recently it was found that what keeps human rights workers like us from being killed or kidnapped is that concerned persons like you know about what we are doing. One of the reasons is that it would make bad publicity for them. So thanks for being there for us. You have an important role.

This concludes my time in Colombia. The new direct relationship that the farmers in the Opon are developing with the government through the Defensoria and with the religious community through the Catholic Priestand the Baptist pastor and their lay helpers could be the beginning of significant improvements for the security of the farmers in the Opon.

Hope and pray with me that the farmers can unite and use the power of God within them to make a clear and strong stand against the evil forces in the armed groups. Little by little with the help of God we will achieve the Peace in Colombia.

Shalom, Jim

PS. If you would like to visit with me about my time in Colombia give me a call. 815 646 4672 I can come to your home. Also I am available for presentations with your church, SS, or organization. I hope to have slides and photos available soon.

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