Colombia’s armed conflict is “far from over,” primarily because of increased far-right paramilitary activity following peace with Marxist FARC guerrillas, according to Amnesty International.
The international watchdog group is the latest organization that has denounced growing paramilitary activity in Colombia that has caused mass displacement in the west of the country.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Amnesty International said that almost 400 people were displaced in a town in upper Baudo, located in the department of Choco.
Some 200 armed men belonging to the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), a paramilitary group also known as the “Urabenos”, had entered the town looking for members belonging to the ELN guerrilla group.
“The authorities in Colombia are adamant that all paramilitaries have been demobilized but reality tells a different story,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. “Instead of denying paramilitaries are still active, the authorities must take action to protect those communities these groups are terrorizing.”
The statement comes as other international groups, such as the UN’s refugee agency, are also raising concerns regarding the security of residents living in former FARC-held territories.
Earlier this week, Colombia’s Constitutional Court released a statement denouncing a rise in the occurrence of forced displacements in the country. According to UNHCR, over 3,500 people–mostly belonging to Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities–have been forced from their homes in 2017.
Many fear of a growing neo-paramilitary presence in former FARC territory. The AGC and other armed criminal groups are vying for control of key drug trade routes left by the FARC. The guerrilla group moved to 26 designated camps around the country after signing a peace agreement with the Colombian government in November.
To secure land that once belonged to the FARC, the Colombian military has announced a large-scale operation, dubbed “Plan Victoria”. Over 65,000 troops have been deployed to 160 municipalities across the country.
But many of these areas remain unprotected, according to independent reports, local officials and international organizations.
“In large swathes of Colombia, the armed conflict is far from over,” said Guevara-Rosas. “Unless the authorities offer urgent protection to these communities, many lives could be lost. ”
Colombia has been suffering political violence and armed conflict since well before the formation of the FARC, which is currently disarming.