Killings, violence wrack rural Colombia -Red Cross

26 Apr 2010 12:15:11 GMT

Source: Reuters

* Problem ignored amid presidential election campaign
* Tens of thousands driven from homes by killings, rape *
Army, paramilitaries and rebels involved
By Robert Evans GENEVA, April 26 (Reuters) – Murder, rape and general violence have driven tens of thousands from their homes in rural Colombia in the last year in a problem ignored during the presidential election campaign, the ICRC said on Monday. Indigenous communities and those descended from African slaves in the south and along the Pacific coast were the worst hit, the humanitarian organisation’s chief representative in the Latin American country said. “Many are being forced to flee because of threats to their lives. Other are subjected to extra-judicial killings or to sexual violence, and yet most of their tragedies go unreported,” the official, Christophe Beney, told a news conference. The Swiss-based ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, had recorded some 800 alleged violations of global humanitarian law over the past year, all linked to fighting involving the army, paramilitaries and Marxist rebels, he said. These included 28 killings, 61 direct attacks against civilians and communities, and 84 disappearances. Death threats were widely used to force people to flee their homes. The first round of elections for a successor to President Alvaro Uribe, whose focus on crushing the rebels has shifted the conflict away from large towns and cities, is due to take place on May 30 with a run-off in June. All the leading candidates, including front runner and former defence minister Juan Manuel Santos, have said they will largely continue Uribe’s security policies, which have been strongly backed by the United States. Uribe’s drive against the rebels, some of whom are accused of running drugs, have attracted foreign investment to Colombia by making the cities and major highways across the country safer than they have been for many years. [ID:nN22132941] But the new focus of the fighting in more remote regions — especially in the south along the border with Ecuador and along the Pacific coast — means that the plight of the rural poor who bear the brunt of it has become almost invisible, said Beney. Official figures, he said, showed that the total number of people displaced by years of violence now stood at 3.3 million — out of a total population of around 46 million — and very few dared to return home The ICRC, which has offices in many parts of Colombia and provides relief and help in setting up income-generating projects for the displaced, said another problem for rural people was posed by mines laid by the sides in the fighting. (Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Lin Noueihed)

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