Thousands displaced by Colombia conflict, says UN

BOGOTA: At least 16,000 people have been displaced from their homes by armed conflict in the border region between Colombia and Venezuela, the United Nations said.

Human rights abuses carried out during fighting between rebel groups and government forces between March 14 and July 5 forced 5,168 families to flee the Catatumbo region that straddles the border between the South American neighbours, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement released Tuesday.

On April 15, the Los Pelusos group, a bastion of the now-dissolved Maoist guerrilla EPL (Popular Liberation Army), launched an attack that provoked another mass exodus from the region.

According to the Army, the fighting is between Los Pelusos and the ELN (National Liberation Army) — the last recognized armed guerrilla group operating in Colombia — over control of drug trafficking routes.

While some 70% of those displaced have returned to their homes, they did so "at their own risk" according to OCHA. Others remain in protected border towns like Ocana and Cucuta.

Three community leaders have been killed and nine civilians injured by landmines and unexploded munitions, while 2,900 children are unable to attend school, OCHA added.

Colombia is battling to end its final armed conflict, and Cuba-hosted peace talks with the ELN are ongoing.

A 2016 peace deal ended hostilities with Marxist guerrilla FARC rebels, who transformed themselves into a political party.

But the 50-year conflict continues in lawless areas where drug gangs, Communist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries are amongst belligerents fighting over territory and control of the lucrative narcotics trade. — AFP