In an astonishing act of civil disobedience, local residents of Toribio, a small town in southwest Colombia, demanded that government forces fighting the rebel FARC go home—and destroyed their fortifications to underscore the point. The town has been witness to especially brutal violence in recent days that has left a number of people dead, and scores more injured and homeless.  Yesterday afternoon, up to a thousand indigenous community members stormed the local police station in Toribio and destroyed the trenches fortifying it.

Colombian soldiers

Colombian soldiers (Photo: Tim Snell / Flickr)

The concern, of course, is that the further the police dig-in near the community, the more they’ll attract unwanted attention from nearby insurgent outfits. “We do not understand how strengthening the security forces would defend the population,” said Marcos Yules, governor of Toribio. “To the contrary, the strengthening of the security forces increases the fighting.”

But locals didn’t stop there. Today they marched into the surrounding jungle to confront rebel fighters directly in their camps.  From the BBC’s reporting, we learn that they communicated the exact same message in no uncertain terms.  “One thousand of us went to see the guerrillas, to tell them to leave, that we don’t need them, that we want them to leave us alone,” said a representative of the Cauca Indigenous Committee. If they don’t pack up their camps, we’ll pack them up for them.” The protesters gave the rebels two weeks to scram.

Colombia Reports has been monitoring increasing protests in the region demanding an end to the violence that seems to do little than harm innocent bystanders.  In late June,

“More than 1,500 people marched…in solidarity with local protests against the new “Tres Cruces” army base in the southwestern Cauca department… The marchers explicitly asked for the “demilitarization” of the area, known as Miranda, claiming the constant battles between left-wing guerrillas and Colombian security forces in the area put the lives of the community members at risk… Expressing the sentiments of several residents, one of the marchers, Orlando Buitron, said “the earth belongs to us, the Army should not be here. Their presence means we risk getting in the middle of a firefight at any moment. We ask them to leave.”

The logic is clear. If government security forces and the FARC want to duke it out, that’s their business.  But residents won’t passively tolerate being in the middle of a warzone any longer.  Said Marcos Yules, the indigenous governor of the Toribio, “The population has not been consulted. This is a fight between armed groups. We suggest that they fight where there is no population.”