Date: Tue, 1 Sep 98 15:10:06 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: COLOMBIA: Rebel-Paramilitary Clashes Spark New Exodus
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Rebel-Paramilitary Clashes Spark New Exodus
By Yadira Ferrer, IPS, 28 August 1998
BOGOTA, Aug 28 (IPS) - Confrontations between paramilitary and guerrilla groups disputing territory in conflict-torn northeastern Colombia caused nearly 1,000 rural people to flee the area Friday.
The displaced complained that combat between the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) - a minor insurgent faction - and paramilitary "self-defence" groups in the southern part of the department of Bolivar forced them to leave their homes.
Pedro Martinez, parish priest of Montecristo, the capital of the department of Bolivar, said only 150 people had remained behind, a third of them children or elderly who were unable to leave without assistance.
Martinez said the fighting is not in Montecristo proper, but in the surrounding area. But the paramilitary groups have cut off supply lines for medicine and food, and the people are going hungry.
In southern Bolivar, around 5,000 rural people have been displaced, denouncing threats against their lives by paramilitary groups.
Most of those joining in the exodus have settled in the city of Barrancabermeja in northeastern Colombia, where the government set up a working group Monday to seek a solution to the growing problem of displacement.
The head of the United Self-Defence groups of Colombia (AUC) Carlos Castano told the leading Colombian magazine 'Semana' on Aug. 17 that the paramilitary strategy was to recover ground in the north, where the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) has gained control, by December.
The ELN, the second largest guerrilla group in Colombia, said it would only release Liberal Party Senator Carlos Espinosa, abducted nearly two months ago, after the government had resolved the situation of the displaced in Barrancabermeja.
In another clash between guerrillas and paramilitaries going into its fifth day in the department of Santander, again in the northeast, a hundred families were forced from their land toward Cucuta, on the border with Venezuela.
Santander Ombudsman Ivan Villamizar said the civilian population in the region was being terrorised, a situation that could spark further displacements.
Villamizar said the town of Cucuta lacked the infrastructure needed to deal with new groups of displaced people, and called on the government for help.
According to non-governmental human rights groups, the displacement of rural people now affects more than one million people, and is one of the most pressing problems generated by the armed conflict. (END/IPS/tra-so/yf/ff/sw-sm/98)
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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