BOGOTA – More than 500 people, including 12 babies and 12 disabled individuals, were forced to flee their homes outside the southwestern city of Caloto due to the fighting between Colombian army troops and FARC guerrillas, a member of Congress said.
The fighting is taking place in the village of El Palo, Congressman Hernando Hernandez said.
“The residents of the area decided to leave their houses because of the armed confrontation taking place at this time between the armed forces and guerrillas from the 6th Front of the FARC, which operates in this northern region of Cauca province,” Hernandez said.
Soldiers from “the 14th Mobile Brigade of the National Army arrived with armored cars and heavy weapons in the village’s urbanized area, generating the displacement of more than 533 (people)” on Wednesday afternoon, the congressman said in a statement.
A woman was apparently hurt in the village, Hernandez said, citing information obtained from residents.
Caloto has been the scene of several firefights between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas and army troops, forcing civilians to flee the area.
The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964, has an estimated 8,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.
The Colombian government has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.
The FARC has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years at the hands of the Colombian security forces.
Alfonso Cano, the FARC’s top leader, was killed on Nov. 4 in a military and police operation that the government hailed as the biggest blow to the FARC in its nearly 50-year history.
Cano, a 63-year-old intellectual who had entered the ranks of the FARC 30 years ago, was killed in in a remote area of the southwestern province of Cauca a few hours after fleeing a bombardment.
The FARC also suffered a series of blows in 2008, with the biggest coming in July of that year, when the Colombian army rescued a group of high-profile rebel-held captives: former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, U.S. military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.
The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC’s main means of financing its operations. EFE