The Defensoria del Pueblo have issued an official warning, calling on Colombia’s public defense forces to come to the aid of the small town of Las Mercedes in the Sardinata municipality, which FARC units have reportedly attacked with small, homemade bombs several times during the past week.
According to the denouncement, the bombings, directed at the town’s police station, have “endangered [the] houses and education centers” of the town’s roughly 8,000 residents.
This is not the first time the armed conflict has threatened the lives and security of Las Mercedes’ citizens. Intense violence began in 1998, when the FARC’s national offensive against public forces came to Sardinata, leading to the kidnapping of 20 police officers and several deaths in one incident alone.
Skirmishes were on and off from that point, until a new wave of terrorist-like attacks in 2011 brought a series of bombings to the town center, causing several deaths, and widespread destruction of property.
In response to the FARC’s long-standing attempts to harass and overtake the police station, the town’s residents mounted a campaign to have the military target moved away from the general populous, to protect innocent bystanders, particularly children, from an armed conflict they themselves have never engaged in.
Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the townspeople, ordering the police station be relocated away from civilian areas.Thus far, though, the Court’s ruling has gone unheeded, and a new round of attacks has cast “a sense of fear” over local life, according to the Defensoria report, especially in the minds of those old enough to remember previous periods of violence.
“Occupants of the adjoining buildings [to the police station] have had to abandon them, and relocate away from the town center,” reads the report. “If the threat should continue, residents will be displaced to the municipal center.”
As the local hospital lacks both an ambulance and a fulltime doctor, Defensoria officials believe the situation would turn “critical” immediately in the event of a potential attack.
The warning, issued to the Ministry of the Interior, calls on the national government to follow through on the Supreme Court order to relocate the police station, and, in the meantime, “to act in a preventative manner to avoid the massive displacement of […] and provide humanitarian attention to the population of Las Mercedes.”
So far, the Interior Ministry has made no public acknowledgement of what the Defenosria calls an “impending crisis”, and spokesmen for the office declined to issue a comment to Colombia Reports.
The Defensoria del Pueblo is a public body, tasked with monitoring the humanitarian situation in Colombia, reporting abuses, and improving state response to ongoing issues. The body, which stations its representatives throughout Colombia, is both a target of death threats from right-wing neo-paramilitary groups, and a subject of frequent criticism for independent human rights groups and victims, for its perceived complicity with the government in downplaying