At least 24 dead due to clashes between the ELN and FARC dissidents in Colombia

At least 24 people were killed in savage clashes between Dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (THE N) in three municipalities of Colombian department of Arauca, bordering with Venezuela. The escalation of violence pushed the government of Ivan duque to militarily reinforce the area with the dispatch of two Army battalions. The president said that he hopes to have “more detailed” information on what happened in the place and, repeating his usual script, said that the two groups that face each other have the “protection” of the government of Nicol├ís Maduro.

“On Sunday at about five in the afternoon we already had the official report of 17 murdered people. However, at night they continued to appear and at this point we have 24 people already officially reported as murdered,” he told W Radio the official of the municipality of Tame, Juan Carlos Villate. The personero explained that these murders occurred in the first two days of the year and that even “surely the figure could go up to 50” in the next few hours.

Among the dead are middle commanders of the FARC dissidents, others from the ELN and “sympathizers, militiamen or civilian population who have been accused of being a militant or political leader of an organization that were declared a military objective,” Villate, of the Few authorities give figures on the murders that, according to the inhabitants of Arauca, have been perpetrated as part of a war unleashed in recent days by the collection of extortion from one another.

The official also indicated that he received complaints about the disappearance of about 50 people while more than three thousand inhabitants of the four municipalities are “confined, hidden in their farms, in their homes” because illegal armed groups do not allow them to go to other places in search of protection. “It all started with ELN operations in the populated centers, detaining people, some murdering them, and the bodies have been appearing little by little,” Villate said.

Dispute between guerrillas

Arauca is an oil and agricultural department where decades ago the ELN Eastern War Front, the most powerful of that guerrilla, force now challenged by the 10th Front of the dissidents, which occupied spaces left by the former FARC and which is financed mainly with extortion, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

The center of the conflict is the territory, both the FARC and the ELN have been there for a long time. Both have been in that territory for four decades, they know it, and unfortunately the FARC have once again had a dynamic in the territory, “he said. Luis Eduardo Celis, advisor to the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Peers).

According to Celis, “The FARC dissidents have been rearranging, growing in the last two years, entering territories where the ELN is present, extorting, kidnapping, promoting coca”. The Colombian government constantly denounces that members of both illegal groups take refuge on the other side of the Arauca River, which marks the border with the Venezuelan state of Apure.

The ELN is recognized as the last guerrilla in the country after the disarmament of the FARC, which negotiated its demobilization in an agreement with the government of Nobel Peace Prize Juan Manuel Santos in 2016. It is estimated that it has about 2,500 men and women, according to the Indepaz independent study center. For their part, the FARC dissidents number about 5,200 combatants without a unified command, most of them new recruits who were never in the defunct guerrilla organization.

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Venezuela as an excuse for violence

Without giving an official balance, the president Ivan duque said that the clashes in the department of more than 300 thousand inhabitants are due to the 2,200-kilometer “porous border” that Colombia shares with Venezuela, where the government “allows the assent of illegal armed groups”.

Duque explained that to confront the guerrillas, intelligence and counterintelligence and aviation will be strengthened in Arauca, where drones will also be used to anticipate the movements of illegal armed groups. He noted that there will be a “follow-up at all points where we know that Illegal armed groups are crossing the border, they are also committing crimes in Venezuela, and crimes in Colombia and they intend to mimic themselves at those border crossings.“.

The right-wing president reported that he instructed Defense Minister Diego Molano to the military leadership and two army battalions move to Arauca to support the governor from the area, retired General Alejandro Navas. What’s more considered it “probable” that there were civilians killed in the clashes.

True to his style, Duque insisted that in Venezuela he provides refuge and protects the two Colombian guerrillas. “These groups have been operating at ease in Venezuelan territory with the consent and protection of the dictatorial regime,” he said in that regard. Colombia and Venezuela broke off relations shortly after Duque came to power in August 2018.

Risk warnings

The Ombudsman’s Office, which some two years ago warned through its Early Warning System of the risk that “approximately 69 thousand people of the civilian population run, of the 174,135 who reside in urban and rural areas of the municipalities of Saravena, Arauquita, Tame and Fortul, “said this Monday that their representatives continue to accompany the communities that are victims of this wave of violence.

The ombudsman, Carlos Camargo Assissaid that “this serious public order situation has also generated the forced displacement of six families in the municipality of Saravena and another six in Tame.” Camargo recalled that in the early warning of July 2019, “In addition to homicides, we warn of the risk of threats and illegal detentions, recruitment of children and adolescents and forced displacement” in those four Araucanian municipalities.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia participated in a Security Council with local authorities and the Ombudsman’s Office to “follow up on the difficult human rights situation that is occurring in the department of Arauca “. For its part, the Organization of American States (OAS) “vigorously rejected confrontations between illegal armed groups” and exhorted criminal gangs to “leave the civilian population out of the armed conflict.”

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