Hundreds of people were forced to flee their homes in the Pacific region of Colombia after fighting broke out between Marxist ELN guerrillas and their paramilitary rivals, the AGC, a.k.a. “Los Urabeños.”
Hundreds of the members of the Pena Azul community in the western Choco province were displaced due to an apparent paramilitary offensive to push the ELN away from the Baudo region, one of the guerrillas’ traditional territories.
Some 200 armed men wearing AGC armbands, who appeared to be chasing a small group of the ELN guerrillas, started indiscriminate shooting against the civil population of the community.
The AGC is a heavily armed paramilitary group formed by the former members of the paramilitary organization AUC, which formally demobilized between 2003 and 2006.
It was not clear on Monday if any civilians were killed or wounded in the attack. Additionally, the whereabouts of most of those who fled the violence to the jungle are unknown. Among those missing are children and elderly.
Only five out 28 families from the Pena Azul community had arrived in the town of Pie de Pato by Sunday noon, according to the Human Rights Commission of the Peoples’ Congress.
Some 700 people from eight townships in the municipality of Alto Baudo, including Batatal, Las Declicias, Puerto Misael, Boca de Leon, Punta de Pena and Puerto Cardozo, were also caught in the clashes that went on until the Saturday night.
The Colombian Red Cross registered 340 people seeking refuge in Pie de Pato, the municipal capital, according to activist radio station Contagio.
Paramilitary groups have entered the community of Pena Azul five times since 2001, one of the residents told website Pacifista.
Last year, the AGC and ELN clashed on several occasions in the region traditionally controlled by the guerrillas.
The news website quoted the ombudsman in Choco, Luis Enrique Murillo, as saying that the communities of upper, middle and lower Baudo, where left-wing guerrillas and paramilitary groups are fighting for territorial control, have been requesting special protection from the state since 2009, but without response.
The Colombian government denies the existence of paramilitary groups, insisting that they have demobilized.