Arauca, Colombia: At least 23 killed amid clashes between armed groups

“We are proceeding with the preliminary figure of 23 victims, but the information is still not [fully] clear. It is very difficult to enter the area where the clashes took place, so these numbers must be handled with care, ”spokeswoman Paola Tovar told CNN.

Colombian mediator Carlos Camargo said fighting first erupted between the National Liberation Army – the country’s largest left-wing guerrilla group known by its Spanish acronym ELN – and the breakaway factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. , or FARC, in the early morning. January 2.

ELN and FARC splinter groups, formed by rebel fighters who refused to enter Colombia’s peace process in 2016, were vying for control of illegal economies such as drug trafficking, the government said on Monday. Colombian President Ivan Duque to reporters.

At least 12 families have been displaced due to the violence, Camargo said.

Local human rights organizations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) believe the death toll could be even higher.

“We are very concerned about these clashes,” said Juan Pappier, senior researcher on the Americas at HRW. Pappier told CNN they had received reports that 24 people had been killed, as well as reports of “kidnappings and forced displacement.”

Duque said the Colombian military would deploy two battalions with helicopters and intelligence capabilities to restore calm in Arauca, adding that Defense Minister Diego Molano would also visit the region on Monday evening.

The Colombian government has accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of harboring FARC dissidents and ELN fighters, a claim Maduro has repeatedly denied.

On Monday, Duque said: “As you know, these groups operate freely on Venezuelan territory with the consent and protection of the dictatorial regime.”

The FARC and ELN began fighting in Arauca, which is on the border with Venezuela, and in the neighboring Venezuelan state of Apure, in 2006. The fighting ended in 2010, when at least 868 people were killed and 58,000 people. had been displaced, according to a 2020 HRW report.

Thousands of people fled Apure in March 2021 amid clashes between Colombian armed groups and the Venezuelan military.

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