Colombia’s new vice-president, General Oscar Naranjo, said Thursday that he would travel to the western Choco province to learn more about the ongoing turf war between guerrillas and paramilitaries.
Naranjo told Blu Radio that “soon I will be visiting Choco to familiarize myself and listen to the citizens and communities what their main concerns are.”
The mainly jungle-covered province has the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the region while child mortality rates are soaring. Two thirds of the predominantly black population of Choco is a registered war victim.
Colombia’s new VP has been in office only a few weeks and has been given quite the workload by President Juan Manuel Santos.
One of the priorities of Naranjo, a former commander of the National Police, is to improve public security in the country, especially in areas formerly controlled by the FARC.
So far, the military has been under severe criticism for being “slow” and “inefficient” in moving into these areas, effectively creating a power vacuum in Colombia’s underworld and remote regions.
One of the most problematic regions is Choco, where the AGC have been moving large numbers of armed forces from their home turf in the north of the province southward into traditional ELN territory.
The ELN occupies territory that is of major importance to drug trafficking, an important source of revenue for both illegal armed groups.
The fighting has already caused several civilian deaths and incidents of mass displacement of locals trying to flee combat or avoid being caught in crossfire.
The United Nations earlier this month urged the government to attend the situation after an apparently random massacre of civilians in the south of the province.
While fighting both the AGC and the Colombian military, the ELN is holding peace talks with the government in Quito, Ecuador.
The government has so far refused to respond to repeated calls by the AGC to be included in peace talks, claiming the leadership had their chance to demobilize with paramilitary umbrella group AUC between 2003 and 2006.