Colombian officials say at least 16 people were killed in Colombia over the weekend and dozens had to flee their homes, as fighting between rebel groups intensified in eastern Arauca state.
BOGOTA, Colombia – At least 16 people were killed in Colombia over the weekend and dozens had to flee their homes, as fighting between rebel groups escalated in eastern Arauca state. of the country, Colombia’s human rights ombudsperson said on Monday.
The killings mark a setback for the Colombian government, which succeeded in lowering homicide rates in much of the country following a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. But he is now struggling to control violence in rural areas of the country where smaller rebel groups and drug trafficking organizations fight over contraband routes, coca fields, illegal mines and other assets.
Arauca is home to some of Colombia’s largest oil wells and is also crossed by an oil pipeline regularly attacked by rebel groups who steal its oil. The state borders Venezuela, and drug trafficking groups have fought for its contraband routes for decades.
In a statement on Monday, the Colombian military said the latest outbreak of violence was caused by fighting between the National Liberation Army guerrilla group and former FARC members, who refused to join. to the peace agreement. The military said the two groups are currently fighting for dominance of drug trafficking in the region.
Juan Carlos Villate, a human rights official in the town of Tame, told Colombian Radio Blu that he had received reports of civilians being dragged out of their homes and executed on Sunday by members of armed groups. Villate said he had reports of 50 people missing and 27 who were killed over the weekend.
Human Rights Watch said it received reports of 24 deaths, as well as forced displacement and kidnappings.
“It seems that the alliance between the ELN and the dissidents with the 10th FARC Front in the area is broken,” said the group’s Colombian expert, Juan Pappier.
Arauca last year hosted hundreds of refugees who fled neighboring Venezuela following fighting between the Venezuelan military and FARC splinter groups that also operate on the Venezuelan side of the border.
President Ivan Duque said on Monday he would send more troops to the region and increase surveillance flights to intercept armed groups and monitor their activities along the border with Venezuela. Duque accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of providing shelter to some of these rebel groups and said Colombia would fight them “with all its might”.
While the overall murder rate in Colombia has declined since the signing of the peace agreement, killings and forced displacement have also increased in some rural pockets of the country that were previously dominated by the FARC and where smaller groups, including the ELN, are now fighting for territorial control.
ELN guerrillas began peace talks with the Colombian government in 2017, but these failed following an attack on a police academy that left 23 people dead.