Almost 1,000 people were forced to flee their homes in the northeast of Colombia over the past three weeks amid heavy fighting between the military and illegal armed groups, the United Nations said Sunday.
According to the UN’s humanitarian office in Colombia, 923 people fled the towns of Teorama and Hacari and parts of rural El Tarra.
All three municipalities are located in the Catatumbo region, a lawless region along the Venezuelan border where an array of illegal armed groups control much of public life and local drug trafficking routes.
The UN did not specify which groups were fighting the army.
According to the UN, fighting between the military and illegal armed groups took place inside the towns of Teorama and Hacari, while the office also reported combat in the rural part of El Tarra.
The urban warfare in Teorama and Haciri forced the majority of the 655 displaced to find temporary shelter with family elsewhere in the towns.
They were able to return once the fighting was over.
In San Isidrio, a township in the rural part of El Tarra, locals fled to the local church, hoping the house of worship would protect them from the violence.
Others found shelter with relatives in safer parts of the region.
Eighteen homes in El Isidrio were damaged by the combat while 181 children have been disallowed to go to school because it was too dangerous, the UN said.
The UN’s humanitarian office warned about the risk of mass displacement if the violence continued and asked both the military and the illegal armed groups to refrain from accusing civilians of collaborating with their individual enemy.
The government has agreed to pursue talks with the ELN, but has ruled out talks with the neo-paramilitaries, claiming they had their chance when paramilitary organization AUC demobilized between 2003 and 2006.
The armed conflict that has generated tragedies like the one in Catatumbo has lasted for more than half a century and has left more than 265,000 dead, 45,000 disappeared and almost 7 million displaced.