Colombia to investigate claims US, local soldiers raped indigenous girls

Colombia President Gustavo Petro on Friday ordered an investigation into the alleged rape of underage indigenous girls by US and local soldiers.

Spanish-language US television network Univision claimed in December that an American soldier living with a Colombian army battalion in 2019 had sexually abused and impregnated a 10-year-old girl from the Nukak tribe in the southern Amazonia region.

After speaking to local sources and state bodies, Univision reported a "growing phenomenon of the rape of indigenous minors in the Guaviare department (in Amazonia), including mostly by white men, someone of whom are soldiers."

Petro said he had asked a commission from the family wellbeing institute and the presidency to travel to Guaviare to investigate the accusations.

"This horror has gone unpunished for years," Petro said on Twitter.

Public prosecutor Isabel Leon told Univision that both Colombian and US soldiers were being investigated for the alleged abuse of Nukak girls.

Petro said 118 members of the Colombian army were under investigation.

The US embassy in Bogota released a statement saying its troops had not been stationed in Guaviare in 2019.

The traditionally nomadic Nukak were displaced from their ancestral lands at the end of the 20th century by the brutal decades-long armed conflict that has brought misery to millions of Colombians.

The multi-faceted conflict has involved radical left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, drug traffickers and the armed forces.

Today, the Nukak live in precarious rural settlements and beg in towns to survive.

Many children and teenagers from the community end up controlled by networks that offer them food in exchange for sexual favors, NGOs say. Some are forced into drug addiction.

In 2020, prosecutors opened an investigation into the alleged rape of a 15-year-old Nukak girl by eight Colombian soldiers in Guaviare.

That same year, a 13-year-old indigenous girl was raped by seven soldiers in the northwestern Risaralda department.

The soldiers were convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison.