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Published:June 26th, 2007 05:09 EST
violence forces locals to flee Colombia's Arauca region

violence forces locals to flee Colombia's Arauca region

By SOP newswire

Violence between guerilla groups in Colombia has forced approximately 1,000 people to flee the eastern Arauca region over the past year and a half, the United Nations refugee agency reports.


The area has long been a stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) which started fighting each other last year, according to the Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has offices in Colombia.


Some 1,000 people have come forward in the past 18 months and said violence had forced them out of their homes in a town that had previously counted only a few displaced families.


UNHCR works in Arauca through a network of partners, including the Catholic Church and La Defensoria del Pueblo, Colombia's human rights network. In view of the serious humanitarian situation, the refugee agency is stepping up its presence on the ground and took part in a fact-finding mission earlier this month to help tailor its intervention to meet the needs on the ground.


Describing insecurity in the area in a news release, UNHCR said a few days before its team visited, unidentified gunmen shot dead local right-wing councillor, Alejandrina Rincon, in broad daylight as she walked in the town with her eight-year-old son. She had been threatened and other local leaders have also received threats.


In the past two years, 10 teachers have also been targeted by one or other group and five had to flee, according to UNHCR, which warned that with local elections coming up in October, many are scared that more violence is on its way.


In the scores of small villages dotted along the vast plains of Arauca, the situation is worse, the agency pointed out, because there, the fighting between the rival guerrilla groups is “at its most intense," while locals report “the army and police are there only intermittently, if at all."