Neo-paramilitary groups are the main generators of violence and threaths against civilians in the northern Middle Magdalena region, according to a Colombian NGO.
According to the conflict monitoring NGO Nuevo Arco Iris, death threaths against civilians living in the Santander department, northern Colombia, have continued after the 2003-2006 demobilization of the paramilitary coalition AUC. The main generators of threaths and violence against civilians are neo-paramilitary heirs of the AUC, known by the acronym Bacrim, or emergent criminal groups. Leon Valencia, director of the NGO, critiziced the administration of former president Alvaro Uribe for declaring the death of paramilitarism after the demobilization of the AUC.
“This created a state of tranquility within the public force and the people which allowed many mid-level leaders to regroup…and they arrived in Middle Magdalena to stay, because this zone is very important as a route of access to the center and west of the country,” said Valencia.
Valencia’s claims about neo-paramilitary presence in the region were echoed by Todd Howland, the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia.
“There are pamphlets which include many persons and many groups. In this region there are socio-economic violations…there are no guarantees of dignified work, nor dignified education,” Howlett said to newspaper Vanguardia, while statiing the United Nations were “worried” because there was “very little protection” for human rights’ defenders in the region.
“There are very few sentences [in regard to] the threaths against human rights defenders in Santander. For example, this year there has not been a single decision,” the UN representative continued.
According to the OHCHR, 37 humans rights’ defenders were murdured in the country in 2012.
Howlett said the paramilitaries never dissappeared from the region, instead “they turned into Bacrim and [are] violating the rights of the Colombians.”
Nuevo Arco Iris reported the left-wing FARC and ELN rebels no longer have a significant presence in the department after a state and paramilitary offensive pushed the rebels away towards border areas with Venezuela. Valencia said the land that used to be controlled by rebels was overtaken by neo-paramilitaries.
“That zone, which is very important for the ELN and the FARC, the two guerrillas lost [due to] the offensive by paramilitary blocs and the Public Force in the last years.”
In a report on the human rights’ situation in the department in 2012, Colombia’s Unit of Attention to Victims reported FARC presence in eight municipalities, including the capital Bucaramanga.
Valencia said Colombia’s juridiciary had permformed well in investigating politicians with ties to the AUC’s Central Bolivar Bloc, which was active in Santander.
“We do not want that Middle Magdalena returns to be like in the 90’s and we are on top of the situation,” said a government representative to Vanguardia.
The AUC demobilized between 2003 and 2006 under a peace accord, known as the Justice and Peace process, with the Colombian government. According to the Prosecutor General of Justice and Peace, ex-paramilitaries participating in the process had confessed to 1,046 massacres and over 25,000 homicides as of 1 December 2012.
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