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Concern For Refugees From Fighting In Colombia

UN Agency Voices New Concern For Refugees From Fighting In Southern Colombia

New York, Jul 1 2005

The United Nations refugee agency today voiced deep concern over the “humanitarian crisis” threatening thousands of people in southern Colombia in fighting between Government and rebel forces, the latest of many recent warnings about the impact of the decades-old conflict on local communities in the South American country.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) specifically mentioned more than 1,200 indigenous Aw forced to leave their homes near the border with Ecuador as a result of heavy fighting between irregular armed groups and the Colombian military, with more than 100 already fleeing across the frontier.

“We fear that hundreds more may be currently displaced in the area or find themselves trapped in their villages by the armed groups, unable to find enough food and living under extremely dangerous security conditions,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva, citing blockades against the movement of people and goods and the presence of anti-personnel mines and unexploded munitions.

He also drew attention to an estimated 4,000 people who may be blocked in Putumayo Province, also on the border with the Ecuador, after a guerrilla attack last week against Colombian military forces protecting petroleum installations.

“We deeply regret the killing of 21 Colombian army soldiers in that attack,” Mr. Redmond said, noting that residents of several towns in the area have been unable to move to safer areas inside Colombia due to the presence of armed groups and the destruction of several bridges during the fighting. Communities further away along the Putumayo River have also been affected, he added.

“We urgently call for the respect of the rights of the civilian population as well as for the respect of the special protection measures for indigenous populations established under international and Colombian law,” he declared.

In recent months UNHCR has expressed mounting concern both over the situation near the Ecuadorian border and over the displacement of indigenous people in northwest Colombia near the border with Panama, where the army, leftist rebels and various paramilitary groups were reported to be massing.

ENDS

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