The Colombian department of Arauca, on the border with Venezuela, has become a war zone for the umpteenth time at the beginning of this 2022. About twenty people have been killed this weekend amid violent disputes between dissidents from the defunct FARC and ELN guerrillas in an area historically hit by the armed conflict, with thousands of inhabitants at risk who could move to flee the confrontations, according to local authorities. Both the office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the Ombudsman have expressed their concern about the killings, threats and displacements and have warned of the growing dangers for the civilian population.
The new wave of violence occurred over the weekend in the towns of Tame, Fortul, Saravena and Arauquita. The national authorities of the Government of Iván Duque, who convened a new security council with the military leadership on Monday, have not yet given an official balance of victims. “The complex situation is that many of these confrontations take place practically on the edge, on the edge of the border,” said the president in a radio interview with La FM. Its Executive has insistently denounced that both the FARC dissidents and the National Liberation Army, the last active guerrilla in Colombia, find shelter and protection from the Nicolás Maduro regime on the other side of the border line. The army, without specifying further details, attributed the confrontations in these “remote parts of the department” to the control of the illegal economies.
The authorities’ numbers still show discrepancies. The Ombudsman’s Office has confirmed at least 16 deaths. Throughout Sunday, more than a dozen murders had already been reported in Arauca, and there were more reports that night. “At this time we have 24 people officially reported as murdered,” said the personero (representative of the Public Ministry) of Tame, Juan Carlos Villate, in statements to W Radio this Monday morning. “It all started with ELN operations in the populated centers detaining people, some murdering them and the bodies have been appearing little by little,” he said. At least 3,000 people have expressed their willingness to move, according to the official. “We have not been able to activate humanitarian corridors, we hope to have protection routes with the accompaniment of the International Committee of the Red Cross,” he added.
Various analysts and security experts agree that the ELN and the dissidents that withdrew from the peace process with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – today disarmed and turned into a political party – have an increasing presence in Venezuelan territory, especially in the State of Apure, bordering Arauca. Chavismo has tacitly tolerated the presence of the insurgents for years, but last March, for reasons that have not yet been clarified, launched an offensive with blood and fire against the FARC dissidents, which included bombings, arbitrary arrests. and torture. At the time, this operation forced thousands of people to take refuge in Colombia. Added to this is the confusing territorial war waged by different dissident factions on the other side of the border, which already at the end of last year resulted in the death of several leaders.
“In Arauca and Apure, the alliance between the ELN and the FARC’s 10th Front dissidents seems to have been broken, which could resurrect a new version of the conflict that for several years tormented the population in the region. We have received serious reports of deaths, forced displacement and kidnappings. It is urgent that the authorities take measures to protect the civilian population and assist the victims, ”warns Juan Pappier, Colombia expert at Human Rights Watch. The NGO has documented in its reports the panorama of murders, torture, recruitment of minors, kidnappings and even forced labor that the armed groups have imposed on both sides of the border line.
Arauca, a department traversed by two major oil pipelines, has not been able to escape the neglect of the state and the persistence of the armed actors despite the resources of oil exploitation. At the turn of the century it suffered a bloody paramilitary onslaught and afterwards it had already been the scene of a fierce guerrilla confrontation between the FARC and the ELN until a decade ago, which today resonates again. A third of its 300,000 inhabitants are registered victims of the armed conflict that Colombia, despite the peace agreement sealed at the end of 2016, has not managed to finish extinguishing.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.