Two dead, police held hostage in Colombia in violent protest against oil company

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A police officer and civilian were killed during violent protests in Colombia’s Caqueta province on Thursday, and 79 officers and nine oilfield workers were taken hostage by members of rural communities, the government said.

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The violence erupted in part of the San Vicente del Caguan municipality, where members of rural and Indigenous communities blocked access to an oil field and set a fire, national police said, to demand Emerald Energy help fix roads.

President Gustavo Petro, who ordered defense and interior officials to the region, decried the killings 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,” he said.

The attorney general's office should investigate the killings, while the Red Cross should attend to those being held hostage, he said.

“I expect from the perpetrators the unilateral liberation of government officials before a new escalation of violence is caused,” Petro added.

The office of human rights ombudsman Carlos Camargo confirmed in a statement a policeman and a civilian had been killed.

Officials from Camargo’s office were accompanying the police officers and Emerald employees who were being held, the office said on Twitter.

The officer and civilian died from gunshot wounds, police sources said, adding FARC dissidents who reject a 2016 peace deal are present in the region and could be involved in the unrest.

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.

Reuters could not immediately reach Emerald Energy, a subsidiary of China's state-owned company Sinochem, for comment.

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