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Colombia: fighting between armed groups intimidates the population

BOGOTÁ (AP) — The Colombian department of Arauca, on the border with Venezuela, has experienced an increase in violence in recent days due to confrontations between the National Liberation Army guerrillas and a faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces dissidents from Colombia.

The confrontations have taken place in the rural area of ​​the municipality of Puerto Rondón, where some 5,000 people live, difficult to access for humanitarian organizations given the precariousness of the roads and the affectation of the population in the villages of El Paisaje, Normandía and Lejanías. , where there is confinement and they have begun forced displacements to the nearby urban centers in search of refuge, as confirmed on Thursday by the Ombudsman, without detailing the number of people in mobility.

The ombudsman, Carlos Camargo, warned the day before in a statement that several bodies of men who had died in combat were found in Puerto Rondón, without specifying the number.

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch said on Twitter that it had received reports of at least 10 people killed after the clashes. While videos are circulating on social networks that show people shooting and then several corpses, the veracity of which has not been confirmed by the authorities.

The army reported on Thursday night that it activated a special device to ensure the entry of the prosecutor’s technical team that allows an investigation process to begin and establish the identities of the bodies found. In addition, he indicated that they have deactivated in a controlled manner more than 20 explosive devices in the area to prevent the community from being affected.

President Gustavo Petro has proposed to open channels of dialogue with various illegal armed groups that include the ELN, the FARC dissidents and drug gangs in his policy of “total peace.”

At the beginning of 2023, the government ordered the suspension of military actions, as part of a bilateral ceasefire, against two factions of the FARC dissidents, the Clan del Golfo cartel and the Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra Nevada.

The government has not ruled on the clashes in Arauca between the FARC dissidents and the ELN, a guerrilla with which it has been holding a dialogue table since November 2022 and which did not accept the bilateral ceasefire.

The government invited the OAS, the Catholic Church and the UN to verify the ceasefires. The day before, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, told the press that it is a preliminary ceasefire agreement in which the protocols to follow to determine, for example, what are the prohibited actions.

The Ombudsman’s Office called on the two armed groups to stop the confrontations registered in Arauca at the beginning of the week, and the sustained violence in general. Last year, 352 homicides were reported in the department and 81 cases of kidnappings and disappearances, the entity added.

Since 2021, the entity has warned about the risk faced by the civilian population due to the presence of the ELN and the FARC dissidents who defected from the peace agreement signed between the guerrillas and the State in 2016. They dispute control of the municipality, strategic to move to other Colombian departments and to Venezuelan territory, and control illegal income such as drug trafficking and contraband.

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