BOGOTA – Some 900 residents of villages outside the southwestern city of Iscuande have been forced from their homes by fighting between marines and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas, officials said.
The fighting outside the city, which is located in Nariño province, has been going on for about two weeks, Iscuande Mayor Juan Gregorio Valencia told Caracol television.
The clashes have taken place in several hamlets outside Iscuande, including “Santa Rita, La Maria and Los Tres Chivatillos, from which people have fled due to lack of security,” Valencia said.
The peasants have taken refuge in the city’s schools, with the large number of people, the majority of them children, creating health problems in the shelters, the mayor said.
Valencia called on the government to send aid to the area because his city lacks the resources to deal with the humanitarian crisis.
“We had to get out because the shooting was too great and forced us to leave,” refugee Esteban Orobio told Caracol television.
Colombia, which is second only to Sudan in the number of internally displaced people, has between 3 million and 4 million internal refugees, human rights groups say.
While the government puts the number of displaced persons at 2.6 million, the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, or CODHES, says up to 30 percent of the internal refugees have never been counted and that the true total is closer to 4 million.
The origin of Colombia’s civil strife dates back to 1948, when the assassination of popular politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitan spurred a 10-year-long civil war known as “La Violencia.”
About six years after that conflict ended with a power-sharing pact between Colombia’s two main parties, a government offensive against peasant self-defense groups led Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, who was pursued by death squads during La Violencia, to form the FARC.
Though flight to escape combat remains a force driving displacement in Colombia, it appears to be declining in importance relative to other factors.
In 2007, the Norwegian Refugee Council, a respected private foundation, said “forced displacement of civilians in the Americas is less a byproduct of fighting between armed groups than a military objective serving political and economic ends.”