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Colombia to speed nearly $400 million in social investment for violence-hit region

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BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia said on Tuesday it would speed social investment of $391.6 million earmarked for southwestern Cauca province, where indigenous communities and political candidates have been recent targets for violence by crime gangs and dissident rebels.

The spending will include subsidies for poor families, road construction, help for economic projects and improvements in health coverage, education and nutrition.

Twelve people have been killed in two attacks by armed groups in the province over the past week, including seven members of indigenous communities.

In September, mayoral candidate Karina Garcia was killed along with five others in the town of Suarez.

“The common enemy is drug trafficking and that’s why the idea is to fight drug trafficking not just with closer security but also socially,” Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos told journalists.

President Ivan Duque last week ordered the armed forces to send 2,500 personnel as reinforcements to the province, a hub for the production and transport of coca and marijuana, joining the 8,000 soldiers already stationed there.

Some communities in Cauca, where the indigenous population numbers 300,000, oppose the increase in the military presence within their territory and have demanded more social spending.

Their communities are frequently targeted – by crime gangs, the National Liberation Army rebel group and guerrilla fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who refused to demobilize under a 2016 peace deal – for resisting drug trafficking and illegal mining within ancestral lands

Figures from the United Nations show that some 50 killings have taken place in indigenous territory in Colombia so far this year.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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