Combat between Colombia’s security forces and an unidentified illegal armed group forced some 240 locals to flee their homes in the northeast of the country, according to the United Nations.
The fighting has been taking place for days in the municipality of Hacari, Norte de Santander, from where the first reports of combat and displacement began coming in on Tuesday.
Hacari lies on the border of Catatumbo, a coca-rich and lawless area where ELN and dissident EPL guerrillas, and the paramilitary Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) have primarily been active.
According to the UN’s Office on Human Rights Affairs (OCHA), the displaced persons have arrived in several hamlets from three nearby hamlets in the municipality “due to intense combat between the army and an unidentified illegal armed group.”
The UN said the military and the illegal armed group had violated citizens’ human rights and international humanitarian law by engaging in combat inside the villages, putting locals’ lives at immediate risk.
International humanitarian law prohibits the Colombian military or illegal armed groups to engage in combat in populated areas, a law ignored by both Colombia’s security forces and illegal armed groups on multiple occasions.
The fighting took place in the middle of the houses and the educational building of the community, generating a violation of Human Rights and violations of International Humanitarian Law. At least seven homes have been hit by bullets and explosive devices. The municipal ombudsman also received complaints of the occupation of houses.
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
According to the OCHA, classes have been suspended after landmines were found hidden around the school.
With the exception of nine, all displaced were able to return home before Sunday, presumably because the warring parties had retreated.
The Norwegian Refugee Council will travel to the towns on Wednesday to make an inventory of the humanitarian needs of the three communities and begin procedures to clear the surrounding of the schools of landmines, the OCHA said.
The coca-rich Catatumbo region bordering Hacari is one of Colombia’s regions most affected by the country’s armed conflict and drug violence after decades if not centuries of structural state abandonment and neglect.