BOGOTA – Seven representatives of people displaced by Colombia’s armed conflict in the northern province of Cesar have abandoned that region due to threats from a far-right paramilitary squad, a human rights group said in Bogota.
The seven individuals left the region “for security reasons” after the militias ordered them to abandon Valledupar, the provincial capital, the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement, or Codhes, said in a statement.
In a pamphlet dated July 10, the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AGC, warned those leaders of displaced persons to leave the capital of the province, located near the Venezuelan border, within three days.
In its statement, Codhes cited the paramilitaries as saying “we give you 72 hours to leave the city of Valledupar to avoid an increase in violence and we ask society’s forgiveness for the innocents who perish from our actions.”
The pamphlet was the second threat this year against the same group of leaders, who make up the so-called Provincial Table for Strengthening Organizations of the Displaced in Cesar.
The first was issued just over three months ago and was signed by the Black Eagles, a paramilitary group that emerged, like the AGC, after the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, paramilitary federation in 2006.
Codhes identified the threatened individuals, whose destination was not indicated, as Hernan Torres Martinez, Hugues Enrique Fonseca, Javier Gutierrez, Alberto Perez, Pedro Nel Jurado, Marcos Coronado and Pedro Joaquin Buelvas.
Colombia, which is second only to Sudan in the number of internally displaced people, saw 270,675 people forced from their homes during the first half of 2008, up 41 percent over the same period in 2007.
The figure was provided last September by Codhes, which is monitoring government compliance with a 2005 court order to restore the rights of those driven from their homes by Colombia’s conflict.
While the government puts the number of displaced persons at roughly 2.6 million, Codhes says up to 30 percent of the internal refugees have never been counted and that the true total is closer to 4 million.
Causes of the rise in forced displacement include the re-emergence of rightist gunmen despite the 2006 demobilization pact between the AUC and President Alvaro Uribe’s government, Codhes said.
The group also blamed Colombia’s biggest leftist insurgency, the FARC.
Though weakened by military setbacks and the deaths of its two top leaders, the FARC continues to plant landmines and extort “revolutionary taxes” from farmers and merchants, according to Codhes.
And the security forces, “pressured to produce results, are not exempt from grave violations of human rights,” Codhes said.