Colombia’s defense minister said on Monday that at least 23 people were killed and 20 fled their homes in Colombia this weekend, as fighting intensified between rebel groups in the eastern state of Arauca.
The killings are a blow to Colombia’s government, which was able to reduce the murder rate in much of the country after a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. But it is now struggling to control violence in rural areas of the country, where small insurgent groups and drug-trafficking organizations are fighting over smuggling routes, coca farms, illegal mines and other properties.
Arauca is home to some of Colombia’s largest oil wells and is crossed by a pipeline that is regularly attacked by rebel groups who steal its oil. The state borders Venezuela, and drug trafficking groups have been fighting over its smuggling routes for decades.
In a statement on Monday, Colombia’s military said the latest outbreak of violence was caused by fighting between the National Liberation Army, or ELN, guerrilla group and former members of the FARC, who refused to join the peace deal. The military said the two groups are currently fighting for dominance over the area’s drug trade.
Juan Carlos Villet, a human rights official in the city of Tam, told Colombia’s Blue Radio that he had received reports of civilians who were dragged to death from their homes by members of armed groups on Sunday. Willett said he had reports of 50 missing and 27 dead over the weekend.
Human Rights Watch said it had received reports of 24 deaths, as well as forced displacement and abduction.
“It appears that the alliance between the ELN and dissidents with the 10th Front of the FARC in the region has broken down,” said the group’s Colombian expert Juan Papier.
Arauca last year received hundreds of refugees who fled neighboring Venezuela after fighting between the Venezuelan military and FARC splinter groups, who also operate on the Venezuelan side of the border.
Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Monday he would send more troops to the region and increase surveillance flights to deter armed groups and monitor their activity along the border with Venezuela. Duque accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of providing shelter to some of these rebel groups and said Colombia would fight them “with all its might”.
While Colombia’s overall murder rate has decreased since the signing of the peace deal, killings and forced displacement have also increased in some rural areas of the country, formerly dominated by the FARC and where smaller groups, including the ELN, are now fighting. Huh. regional control.
The ELN guerrillas began peace talks with the Colombian government in 2017, but they broke down after an attack on the police academy in which 23 people were killed.