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Update on U'wa - Columbian Court Halts Oil Drilling

31 March 2000

Bogota, Colombia - A court on Friday ordered a halt to a U.S. oil company's exploration near a Colombian Indian reservation, in what appeared to be at least a temporary victory for the tribe.

Alberto Calderon, president of the state-owned Ecopetrol oil company, said the government had notified Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (NYSE:OXY - news) of the order to suspend operations.

Details on the Bogota circuit court verdict favoring the 8,000 member U'wa nation were not immediately available.

Calderon, whose company has contracts with Occidental, denounced the verdict, saying it placed a small minority's interests above those of the nation. The government plans to appeal.

"This is a process in which if oil is found it could generate nearly $900 million a year," Calderon told a news conference Friday night. "It's a project of enormous importance for the country."

U'wa tribal leader Roberto Perez said the tribe still sees a long battle ahead.

"This is not a fight that's been won," he told The Associated Press, speaking from Washington, where he has been meeting this week with members of Congress and activists. "But we've taken a step forward and I feel content."

Occidental Corp. was unavailable for comment Friday night.

The tribe has waged a national and international campaign since 1995 to stop the company from drilling on or near its ancestral lands near Colombia's eastern border with Venezuela. At one point, the group threatened mass suicide to highlight their cause.

Seeking compromise, the government last September approved a nearly fourfold increase in the size of the tribal reservation, to 850 square miles stretching across four states.

An exploratory drill site - one Occidental and Colombian officials hope will lead to reserves of as many as 2.5 billion barrels of crude - was approved a few miles outside the expanded reservation.

For more information link to:

Associated Press

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Feel free to distribute widely but please acknowledge the source. ***

Threat to U'wa in Colombia


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