Some 200 armed men identified as members of paramilitary group the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) forced about 400 people to leave their homes in Peña Azul, Alto Baudó, Chocó, a town in North Western Colombia. The targets of the group were members of a rival guerrilla group: National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación, ELN). Local authorities report that fighting for territorial control in the Colombian Pacific coast region among competing armed groups has displaced 3,549 people in the first two months of 2017; and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) record shows that 11,363 people in the same area were displaced in 2016 due to the violence.
The ongoing rivalry among paramilitary groups is causing the displacement of the civilian population despite the peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed last November. The UN called the Colombian government to quickly occupy the territory left behind by the FARC to prevent criminal organizations and paramilitary groups from filling the vacuum, but the Colombian military was “inefficient and too slow” to act as advised by the UN, officials said. As FARC gathers in its transitional zones as stated in the peace deal, new armed groups grow in its former territory. The post-peace treaty period has witnessed a surge in violence by these armed groups, leading to killings, forced recruitment – including of children – gender-based violence, limited access to education, water and sanitation; restrictions of movement and forced displacement of civilian population.
The Colombian military launched its “Plan Victoria” operation in February to secure the former guerrilla territory. President Juan Manuel Santos announced the deployment of 65,000 troops to 160 municipalities across the country, but independent reports and the new cases of displacements suggest army presence has been rather minimal. Amnesty International reports that Colombia’s Minister of Defense, Luis Carlos Villegas, denies the operations of paramilitary groups in Colombia, but Colombia’s Constitutional Court confirms the ongoing displacement of people as a product of “territorial disputes between the illegal armed groups that are still present in the [former FARC] area.”
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International said “the authorities in Colombia are adamant that all paramilitaries have been demobilized but reality tells a different story. Instead of denying paramilitaries are still active, the authorities must take action to protect those communities these groups are terrorizing. The tragic events of the weekend show that the signing of the peace accords is just one step in what will be a long road towards a country where people can live without fear of being killed, disappeared or pushed out of their home out of utter panic for their lives.”
UNHCR expresses deep concerns over the increasing level of internal displacement affecting many communities in Colombia’s Pacific Coast: the Chocó, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Nariño departments in particular. The violence has heavily impacted and threatens the survival of Afro-Colombian communities and indigenous people which account for 10 percent and 3 percent respectively of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia. The agency therefore reiterates the need to protect and assist civilian populations and make the IDPs return to their areas of origin in safe and dignifying conditions.