Military-Rebel Clashes Drive Indians Off Their Land in Colombia

BOGOTA – Clashes between the Colombian military and leftist rebels in a rural area of the southern province of Nariño forced 300 members of an indigenous community to flee their lands, the National Ombudsman’s Office said Wednesday.

The mass displacement stemmed from a Jan. 31 clash between marines and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, combatants during a meeting of a regional association of indigenous councils.

National Ombudsman Volmar Perez expressed concern over the plight of the members of the Eperara Siapidara indigenous group, who fled to the Nariño town of Boca de Vibora.

The Indians said illegal armed groups are setting up checkpoints in urban areas and that was the reason the meeting of the association of Eperara Siapidara indigenous councils of Nariño was organized.

According to a recent report by the independent Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, known as Codhes, a total of 2.4 million Colombians have been forced to flee their homes since 2002 due to intensified armed conflict stemming from President Alvaro Uribe’s “democratic security” policy.

Those 2.4 million people represent about 49 percent of the 4.9 million internal refugees uprooted by Colombia’s armed conflict over the past 25 years, Codhes said.

The FARC, founded in 1964, is now thought to have around 8,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.

Uribe’s administration has made fighting that rebel insurgency a top priority and has obtained billions of dollars in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations. EFE

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