Red Cross assists humanitarian crisis in western Colombia

Posted on May 19 2014 - 11:02pm by Today News
(Photo: Defensoria del Pueblo)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is providing assistance to nearly 3,000 people displaced by recent violence in Colombia’s most northwestern state.

“The situation in which these 28 indigenous communities currently find themselves has become more critical due to a shortage of food and medicine,” read a statement released by the international aid organization on Monday.

“We well deliver enough humanitarian aid, consisting of food, blankets, diapers, and sanitary towels to last for a month,” the ICRC added.

The ICRC also called on armed groups in the area to allow civilians to access food and other basic necessities, and said that a local team will continue monitoring the situation of the displaced communities in order to provide urgent assistance if need be.

MORE: ‘Humanitarian crisis’ and forced displacement persists in Colombia’s west: Ombudsman

The international humanitarian organization’s actions come in response to local distress warnings in the Choco department in question, where a series of confrontations between ELN, Colombia’s second largest group, and “Los Urabeños,” the most powerful neo-paramilitary organization in the country.

“On behalf of the ombudsman’s office we are requesting urgent attention, for the communities who at this moment require nourishment, medicine, and comprehensive care,” said Choco Ombudsman Luis Enrique Abadia, in an interview with RCN radio.

A report released by the Abadia’s office Monday revealed that nearly 2,600 people from 22 different communities have been forced to flee their homes in the region since the fighting began.

Many members of these communities, comprised mostly of indigenous and Afro-Colombians, have left, as the isolation of their communities has contributed to the food distress brought on by the violence.

Some of those affected reported not being able to leave their homes for days and having to cover themselves with mattresses to avoid being hit by bullets when they were caught in the crossfire.

FACTSHEET: Urabeños

According to the ombudsman’s report, a tentative truce had existed between the ELN and the region’s paramilitary-associated drug traffickers, who operate on behalf of the neo-paramilitary group, “Los Rastrojos.”

FACTSHEET: ELN

In November 2013, the region’s drug elements — formerly associated with the Rastrojos — switched allegiances to Los Urabeños, now considered Colombia’s most powerful neo-paramilitary group.

The ELN, however, maintained its alliance with the Rastrojos — whose power is rapidly waning — leading to a resurgence in intense fighting throughout the past week.

The Choco region is of strategic importance to the country’s armed groups, due to its access to coastal drug routes and a low state presence, which allows for widespread coca cultivation and illegal mining operations to go on largely unmolested.

The state, regularly among the most impoverished in the country, is comprised mostly of Afro and indigenous peoples, who are disproportionately targeted by violence relating to Colombia’s longstanding armed conflict.

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