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Probe Attacks On Colombian Refugees, Says UNHCR

UN refugee agency calls for probe into attacks on Colombian refugees

10 June 2008 - The United Nations refugee agency is calling for a "full and speedy resolution" to investigations into allegations that Colombian refugees in Ecuador have endured forced disappearances, torture, attempted rape and death threats.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), three Colombians, including one refugee and one asylum-seeker, disappeared at the end of last month from the village of San Martin in northern Ecuador, just across the border from Colombia.

Like many other rural communities in that part of the country, San Martin is home to large numbers of Colombian refugees.

UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva today that the agency has received consistent reports from first-hand witnesses that the three were kidnapped by a group of masked men in uniforms during an armed incursion into San Martin on 26 May. The group, which has not been identified by the authorities in either country, apparently came from Colombia.

"According to information we received, the masked men tortured members of the local community before taking the three men away," Ms. Pagonis said. "There also are allegations of attempted rape against a pregnant refugee woman in San Martin."

Ms. Pagonis said that UNHCR strongly condemned these acts of violence against refugees and their host communities, and appreciated the serious efforts of the authorities in Ecuador and Colombia to resolve the matter in a transparent way.

UNHCR said it hoped that those responsible would be brought to justice and called on both governments to continue their efforts to strengthen protection mechanisms to avoid a repetition of the alleged events.

About 60,000 Colombians in Ecuador's northern provinces are in need of international protection, according to UNHCR. Most of them fled the internal armed conflict in Colombia fearing for their lives or safety.

The majority live along the border among local Ecuadorian people, in rural communities that are often remote and under-developed.

ENDS

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