According to Human Rights watch, the community in the small township of El Carra in San Juan Litoral, Choco was caught in the cross fire between ELN guerrillas and AGC paramilitaries, two drug trafficking groups engaged in a territorial war in what is traditional ELN territory.
Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office had an entirely different version of events, claiming ELN fighters attacked the Afro-colombian community while failing to mention the AGC’s alleged involvement.
In the latest outburst of violence, 52 were displaced, including 18 children, just weeks after hundreds were reportedly displaced when the AGC carried out an attack on a village some 60 miles north of the latest reported combat.
Those who were forced to flee their homes left “literally with what they were wearing,” reported local media.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the ELN who are currently engaged in peace talks with the government “left evidence at the scene” and is responsible for the attack.
“Testimony collected indicates that seven people camouflaged with ELN bracelets could be the perpetrators of the repudiable crime in El Carra, Choco,” read the statement by chief prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez.
However, Martinez’ version of events contradicts that of HRW and was subsequently rejected by the ELN, which blames the AGC on the killings.
The incident is the latest in an ongoing war between the ELN and the AGC in the area, confirmed Choco Ombudsman Luis Murillo.
“Within the framework of this dispute, it was an armed incursion by the ELN that has caused five deaths,” Murillo told RCN Television.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, through his Twitter account, strongly condemned the killings and added that he has ordered “the immediate prosecution of those responsible.”
The Prosecutor General’s office reiterated the urgent need to secure State presence in the remote region, which is being torn apart by combat between Marxist-inspired rebels and the paramilitary groups who are not just ideologically opposed, but also vying for control of lucrative drug trafficking and mining territory.
The ELN has been fighting the state since 1964 in a multi-party war that cost the lives of more than 265,000 Colombians. The Colombian government and the ELN began peace talks in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito in February.
The AGC is a paramilitary group formed from demobilized paramilitary organization AUC, which was intimately tied to state officials and the private sector. The government has so far refused to negotiate with the AGC, who they consider an organized crime group with no political aspirations.
Meanwhile, civilians continue to pay the price of the armed conflict.
News website Pacifista quoted Murillo as saying that the communities of the upper, middle and lower Baudo region in Choco have been requesting special protection from the state since 2009, but without response.