Ituango, a town in northern Colombia, has been pulled back into armed conflict, just when locals thought peace might have been on the horizon.
Ituango, which saw years of bloody fighting at the hands of Marxist guerrillas and far-right paramilitary groups, is now reeling after two alleged members of paramilitary group AGC were killed in a gunfight on Sunday.
It is believed that a dissident faction of the FARC, a guerrilla group that demobilized last year, have rearmed and are the perpetrators behind the attack.
Local media reported that several peasants were found murdered on Monday, the day that Justice Minister Enrique Gil visited the town to visit the hydroelectric dam that is being constructed in the municipality.
Graffiti announcing a “paramilitary cleansing” was painted on residents’ homes a few days ago, providing an ominous warning of things to come.
Following the FARC’s demobilization, the AGC, or “Clan del Golfo” as the government calls the group, took over the abandoned area in the north of Antioquia. Several former guerrillas were assassinated.
“People are very worried. People are afraid to go out and armed groups now say people can’t move around at night,” an anonymous resident told Colombia Reports.
“We’re in a war,” the president of the Ituango Farmers Association, Edilberto Gomez, told Caracol Radio.
“Between dissidents, the Clan del Golfo and the ELN, you never know who you’re going to come across on the road and security forces aren’t doing anything about it”, said Gomez.
The military contradicted the locals on Twitter, claiming that “all the judicial and military tasks are carried out to guarantee the security and tranquility” of Ituango, which holds strategic importance for many.
With ideal conditions for coca cultivation and key drug routes that cut through the municipality, armed criminal groups have rushed in to take control of the region.
In a 2016 referendum over the peace deal with the FARC, the town voted overwhelmingly “yes” to peace, but the country voted “no.”
Congress failed to approve much of the peace process that would help towns like Ituango, and the citizens that have suffered violence more than many in Colombia.
Of the 550 FARC members who moved into the demobilization camp just outside Ituango, less than 150 are left. The rest has either gone home or rearmed.
“There is going to be a lot more violence,” said the local who wouldn’t reveal his name, afraid of retaliations.
Eight people were murdered in the town of 20,000 so far this year. As far as the FARC dissidents are concerned, more will follow.