Western Colombia looks again to be plunged into the horrors of war as local indigenous leaders denounce a bombing that took place on Tuesday morning leaving two communities stranded.
One minor is confirmed to have been injured with unverified reports suggesting that there have been fatalities in the Choco province, which has been ravaged by a territorial war between the Marxist ELN and the paramilitary AGC.
“The event could have occurred in the middle of two communities, Santa Maria Pangala and Estrella Pangala, and these communities could be confined,” Choco Ombudsman Luis Murillo told reporters.
Murillo explained that it is still unclear as to who was responsible for the attack or indeed who was the target as no official confirmation has been received from any armed group active in the area.
Murillo also confirmed that the staff of Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office have moved into the area to verify the details of the attack and the conditions on the ground.
Ombudsman Carlos Negret, who is currently touring the region expressed his deep concern at the growing humanitarian crisis and assured that he will be requesting the presence of the Armed Forces in the area as soon as possible.
We call on the National Government to look at this area of Choco and Atrato. Peace has not arrived here because in all the reservations and community councils, the complaint that the community has made to me is that they are in the hands of the paramilitaries.
Ombudsman Carlos Negret
The Marxist ELN guerrillas have been fighting the paramilitary successors for years, primarily over territorial control around the Atrato River, a major drug corridor with devastating effects on the local inhabitants.
The Ombudsman warned that immediate intervention is needed to assist those suffering from armed conflict in the poverty-stricken region.
“Today is the fifth day of the journey and really the panorama of the Atrato River is bleak,” highlighted the official.
Amnesty International on Monday released a statement condemning the situation in the Choco province and called on the government to intervene to prevent further human rights violations.
The strategy of territorial control advanced by the AGC and the ELN, in territories formerly controlled by the FARC in Choco, once again puts these communities at imminent risk of human rights violations. Therefore the action of the state should be emphatic to demand respect for the human rights of the populations of Choco.
The paramilitary group, led by former AUC mid-level commander “Otoniel,” has been pushing its way down the Pacific coast since 2011 and have previously clashed with the now-demobilized FARC guerrilla group that controlled the northeast of Choco, and “Los Rastrojos,” a Cali-based drug cartel.
The jungle municipalities of Choco have long been considered traditional ELN territory but have recently come under military pressure from the army and the AGC.
There have been reports of clandestine armies of hundreds of men who continue to battle it out with the ELN guerrillas for territorial supremacy in the area.
Additionally, the area is rich in gold, which has been an increasingly important revenue generator for both illegal armed groups.
Thousands of indigenous and Afro-Colombian inhabitants of the region have already been displaced.
The area has largely been abandoned by the Colombian state but human rights organizations like Amnesty International continue to lobby for a tangible effort to be made to deal with the illegal groups and to restore basic human rights to its inhabitants.
The confrontations between the ELN, paramilitary groups and state security forces continue to directly threaten the indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples of the country. The organization makes an urgent call for immediate protection measures to be taken. The populations that live in the middle of the armed conflict demand an integral response from the State. This serious situation can not be made invisible under the mantle of the implementation of the Peace Agreement with the FARC.
Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas
Choco has been most affected by Colombia’s armed conflict even before the fighting between the ELN and the AGC began.
According to the country’s Victims Unit, two out of three inhabitants from the impoverished region have fallen victim to violence related to the drug-fueled armed conflict.