BOGOTA – Colombian authorities are investigating whether the explosion that killed eight people on an indigenous reserve in the southwestern province of Valle del Cauca was caused by the mishandling of gunpowder, the defense ministry said on Friday.
The reserve is located within the municipal limits of Dagua, whose mayor, Guillermo Giraldo, told EFE that eight people perished in Thursday’s blast and four others were injured, one of them a minor.
Investigators from the police and the Attorney General’s Office reached the site of the explosion quickly, but they were not allowed to enter immediately, the defense ministry said.
The ministry said that after several hours, the community admitted a police bomb squad, but barred the officers from collecting evidence and eventually ordered them off the reserve.
Residents likewise stopped forensic teams from examining the bodies of the dead, citing a “lack of guarantees” and demanding that representatives of international organizations be present to witness the investigation.
The defense ministry said that no military operations were taking place Thursday in the vicinity of Dagua.
Mayor Giraldo said that contrary to initial reports, the explosion occurred in a house, not in a mine, “as there is no mining activity there.”
The provincial coordinator of Colombia’s disaster management agency, Jesus Copete, originally told the media that the explosion had occurred inside a gold mine.
The region has been rocked by sometimes-violent protests in the last two weeks after hundreds of indigenous people blocked the Pan-American Highway, which connects Colombia with Ecuador, in a bid to force President Ivan Duque to travel to the area and meet with community leaders.
Indigenous leaders want Duque to address the failure of previous administrations to keep promises made to residents of Valle del Cauca.
Seven police officers have been wounded during the course of the protests, and one policeman, identified as Boris Alexander Benitez Leclerc, was fatally shot.
Fifteen civilians have also been injured, according to authorities.