Army troops guarding a cluster of telephone towers in the southwestern province of Cauca were driven out on Thursday by some 100 Indians as leaders of indigenous communities in the area appealed to a prominent Spanish jurist to represent them in talks with the Colombian government.

Members of the Indigenous Guard took down gates and filled in the trenches of the military outpost on Berlin mountain, near the town of Toribio.

"At this moment we are advancing in the seizing of control," Feliciano Valencia, leader of the Association of Indigenous Governments of North Cauca, told Efe by telephone from Toribio.

He asked that Baltasar Garzon, a former judge of Spain's National Court who became famous after indicting late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, help facilitate a dialogue with the government of President Jose Manuel Santos.

Garzon has a history of advocating on behalf of the indigenous majority in Cauca, who proclaim neutrality in Colombia's decades-long conflict between the state and leftist rebels.

The Indians have repeatedly demanded that both the guerrillas and the security forces stay off their land and leave them out of the war.

A spate of attacks and clashes in Cauca over the last 10 days prompted Santos to travel to Toribio on Wednesday along with his Cabinet as a demonstration of Bogota's concern about the situation in the province.

The indigenous people greeted Santos with boos and demanded that he withdraw the army and National Police from the area.

They then approached checkpoints set up outside Toribio by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to encourage the rebels to clear out.

After Santos flatly rejected the Indians' request and vowed not to demilitarize "a single centimeter" of Cauca, the Indigenous Guard - armed only with clubs - set out to drive the army from Toribio.

Colombia's constitution recognizes the autonomy of the indigenous peoples and their right to exercise control over their designated territories. EFE