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The Red Cross says violence will drive more Colombians out by 2022


BOGOTA, Colombia — The number of internally displaced persons in Colombia increased significantly last year as several armed groups fought for control of rural areas of the country, the Red Cross said Wednesday.

In its annual assessment of humanitarian challenges in the South American country, the organization said that while clashes between the Colombian military and rebel groups eased last year, fighting between rebel groups continues to take a heavy toll on civilians.

Some communities are increasingly affected by landmines, death threats and attacks on health workers, the humanitarian group said.

The Red Cross findings come as Colombia’s recently elected left-wing president, Gustavo Petro, seeks to broker a ceasefire with rebel groups fighting for control of illegal mines, drug trafficking routes and other resources left behind by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, following their 2016 peace deal with the government.

The peace deal ended five decades of conflict in which more than 450,000 people died, but it was also followed by power struggles between smaller groups in remote parts of the country. They include the resource-rich Choco province and a region dotted with coca fields near the border with Venezuela.

“The situation is complex and it will take time” to improve, said Lorenzo Caraffi, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Colombia.

However, he noted that Colombia’s current conflict is “not comparable” to what the country went through two decades ago, when rebel groups regularly attacked police stations in small towns, while bombings and kidnappings affected thousands of people in cities such as Bogota and Medellin. .

However, some indicators point to an increase in violence.

According to the 2022 Red Cross report, more than 123,000 people had to flee their rural homes to escape conflict last year, a 60% increase from 2021. An estimated 39,000 people were trapped in their villages for days or weeks because of threats from armed groups.

The humanitarian group said 515 people in the country were injured by landmines and other explosives, a 5% increase from 2021.

Caraffi said the Red Cross is currently monitoring seven conflicts in Colombia, including the conflict between the Colombian army and the National Liberation Army, as well as fighting between two rebel organizations led by former FARC fighters who abandoned the 2016 peace deal.

He said that while political solutions are being found to these conflicts, it is important that humanitarian organizations work impartially and have access to affected communities.

“War is an unfortunate, cruel and sad reality,” Caraffi said. “In this reality, we ask armed groups to respect international humanitarian law so that communities do not suffer from this situation.”

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