In Leticia, a small village in the north of Colombia, FARC-guerrillas notified the local population their children over 15 were to join the rebels for compulsary service in the “People’s Army”. Outraged by the announcement, the local priest met with the parents in the church and ordered them not to surrender their children and go into hiding.After it started raining threats from the FARC, the priest and a number of families were left no choice, but to leave the village.Similar stories come from communities in Guainia, Vichada, Meta, Caqueta, Putumayo and even Bogotá. Many parents, rather than to hand their children to the gurillas, prefer to flee to safer ground.According to the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (Codhes) this forced recruitment is one of the main reasons of the rise in internal displacement in Colombia this year. The Codhes and the catholic church estimate 113,500 people were displaced in 2008 so far. An increase of 18 percent compared to last year.The Colombian capital Bogotá is dealing with 60 displaced families arriving in the capital every day, Caracol Radio reported earlier this week.The FARC aren’t the only ones recruiting minors. Paramilitary groups like the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles) and drug gangs operating in the departments of Córdoba and Sucre use similar tactics.”The forced recruitment of the guerrillas and the paramilitaries is changing the dynamics of the conflict,” says Jorge Rojas, director of the Codhes. The displaced are terrified for reprisals for not handing over their children.There’s uncertainty about the total amount of displaced in Colombia. The Colombian government says the country has 2.5 million displaced. The United Nation, using figures of Colombia’s Constitutional Court, says that number should be 3 million. The Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, however, estimates more than 4,3 million Colombians were forced to leave their homes.The number of displaced able to return to their homes are just a fraction of the ones having to leave. Between August 2007 and June 2008, only 170 thousand displaced were able to return to their homes, says the Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation, which has coordinated the return.Most displaced are too afraid to go back. There’s simply no guarantee their lives will be safe at home. There are several stories of displaced returning to their homes, but being killed by paramilitaries or guerrillas trying to reclaim their land.Despite the government’s attempts to militarily defeat the FARC, it is not succeeding in defeating the humanitarian crisis.
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