Colombia sent 2,000 soldiers to the conflict-affected region of Catatumbo in a bid to stabilize escalating tensions between illegal armed groups in the northeast of the country.
The directive, handed down by President Juan Manuel Santos, is set to assist the already-present 8,000 soldiers in the region plagued by the ongoing conflict between armed guerrilla groups, the ELN and the EPL.
The two groups went to war with each other last month over a dispute over the control over coca plantations and oil fields in the area.
Some 5,000 people have been displaced while tens of thousands are affected by the armed conflict.
“It’s a territory with illegal economies and without state presence, where social leaders are threatened and citizen participation is limited. There, illegality prevails over democracy. State presence is urgent,” said Alejandra Barrios, director of civil rights organisation Electoral Observation Mission.
The state’s deployment of troops comes on the back of mass protests demanding peace in Catatumbo.
“(We ask) that the war stops in the region, because the war is not ours. We have suffered different forms of violence for decades and it is our families, sons and daughters who suffer. And we ask for political and negotiated solutions to the confrontation,” local ombudsman Nelson Arevalo told newspaper El Tiempo.
The set of rallies, which culminated in the Assembly for Life, Peace and Reconciliation was joined by peasants leaders, officials of the Ombudsman’s Office and international organisations, such as the United Nations which “vehemently” denounces the region’s ongoing violence.
Vice President Oscar Naranjo and Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera arrived in the area Sunday to monitor the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
The United Nations on Friday published a new report on the effects of the conflict, claiming that 148,000 inhabitants in 11 municipalities in the department have been affected by the violence.
Catatumbo is one of the regions where violence has erupted after a peace deal was signed with the FARC in November 2016. Turf wars between rival groups and dissident FARC guerrillas have also erupted in the west, southwest and northwest of Colombia after the country’s corruption-ridden security forces failed to assume control in abandoned guerrilla territory.
According to the Defense Ministry, violence has gone up 9.2% in the first three months of 2018 compared to the same period last year. The number of killed policemen and soldiers nearly doubled to 41.