Proliferation of Armed Groups Wreaking Havoc in Rural Colombia (Colombia)


Hundreds of Thousands of People Forced from their Land; Government Agencies too Overwhelmed to Respond


(30.07.2008)

Hundreds of Thousands of People Forced from their Land; Government Agencies too Overwhelmed to Respond

Washington, D.C. - Displacement in Colombia is increasing due to the proliferation of illegal armed groups and aggressive counterinsurgent activity by the Colombian army in remote areas, said a new field report by Refugees International. A string of new narco-groups are competing with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army) for land and resources for coca cultivation and trafficking. On a recent mission to the country, Refugees International found that communities are displaced or manipulated through selective assassinations and other acts of terror, including the use of land mines. The hundreds of thousands of newly displaced people are overwhelming government agencies' capacity to respond.

"Without greater support to those most affected by Colombia's internal war, this era of violence will not end," said Andrea Lari, senior advocate for Refugees International. "Violence in rural Colombia is reigning in several areas of the countryside. These people are continually terrorized by armed groups and are regularly in fear for the lives. The government of Colombia has the legal framework to deal with these situations, now they must provide more resources to assist those who are forced from their homes."

The report describes a series of assassinations and displacements in 2008. On July 20, seven people were murdered in Puerto Libertador, after 500 families had already fled earlier this year. Fifty families fled to Tierra Alta in June. 1,500 people sought sanctuary in Sanchez on May 9. Another 4,000 people fled in Arauca in January 2008. In addition, the country now has the highest number of new land mine-related casualties in the world, with more than 1,100 in 2006. Landmines are even planted in people's gardens or around entire villages.

Refugees International is concerned that the Colombian government remains incapable of meeting its legally mandated obligation to provide emergency assistance to people. Oftentimes non-governmental organizations must step in to provide assistance because local government agencies lack the training, preparation or funding to do so. Refugees International is calling on the Colombian government to increase its staff, resources and funding for areas that have a high risk of displacement so that needs can immediately be met. The U.S. should also support these efforts.

"The American government provides hundreds of millions of dollars to Colombia, but almost two-thirds of this aid goes towards military-related programs," said Mr. Lari. "If the United States wants to see a stable Colombia, it should increase humanitarian and socio-economic aid to the most vulnerable Colombians."

The Colombian non-governmental organization Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES) estimates that more than 110,000 Colombians were displaced from their homes in just the first three months of this year - an 18 percent increase over the same period in 2007. In total, almost one tenth of the population is displaced, or more than three million people.

Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises. Senior Advocate Andrea Lari and Congressional Advocate Jake Kurtzer recently returned from the organization's sixth mission to Colombia in the last three years. For more information, go to www.refugeesinternational.org.

Von: 30.07.2008, www.alertnet.org

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