Colombia: Paramilitaries force hundreds off their homes as conflict persists
The forced displacement of nearly 400 people from a community in North West Colombia by a paramilitary group is tragic evidence that the armed conflict is far from over, said Amnesty International.
Over the weekend, some 200 armed men identified as members of paramilitary group the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) entered the town of Peña Azul, Alto Baudó, Chocó, in North Western Colombia.
The authorities in Colombia are adamant that all paramilitaries have been demobilized but reality tells a different story. Instead of denying paramilitaries are still active, the authorities must take action to protect those communities these groups are terrorizing
Witnesses claim the paramilitaries entered the town looking for members of the guerrilla group National Liberation Army ELN (Ejército Nacional de Liberación) and effectively forced 399 people (128 families) to flee out of fear for their lives. The whereabouts of eight families of these families still remains unknown.
On 22 February, Colombia's Minister of Defence, Luis Carlos Villegas, said in a radio interview in response to Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2016/7 that there are no paramilitary groups operating in Colombia.
“The authorities in Colombia are adamant that all paramilitaries have been demobilized but reality tells a different story. Instead of denying paramilitaries are still active, the authorities must take action to protect those communities these groups are terrorizing,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“The tragic events of the weekend show that the signing of the peace accords is just one step in what will be a long road towards a country where people can live without fear of being killed, disappeared or pushed out of their home out of utter panic for their lives.”
“In large swathes of Colombia, the armed conflict is far from over. Unless the authorities offer urgent protection to these communities, many lives could be lost.”
Since 2014 the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AGC), remnants of the paramilitary groups that demobilized a decade ago, initiated an operation to take control of Alto Baudó, a territory populated by indigenous and Afro-descendant communities near the Pacific and other important municipalities of the region.
Since the start of the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), and especially since September 2015, there have been increasing reports of paramilitary activity in the Alto Baudó region. Increasing paramilitary activity has also been reported in other parts of the country, as various armed groups seek to gain control over some of the territories previously controlled by the FARC, including the National Liberation Army (ELN), which is currently negotiating a peace agreement with the Colombian government.