Colombia

Violence in Colombia displaces indigenous families

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© UNICEF Colombia/2005
An indigenous family visits the site of their destroyed home.

NEW YORK, 29 April 2005 - Intense fighting in the Cauca region of Colombia between FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and the Colombian Army since 14 April has displaced more than 6,000 people, including more than 3,000 children. 

Most of the people affected are Nasa (also known as Paéz) Indians, recipients of international awards for their peaceful resistance against armed conflict in the area. They are the second largest ethnic group in Colombia.

No longer able to cope with the onslaught of violence, Nasa Indians are fleeing their homes. However, many still remain confined in areas blocked by the guerrillas, while others who abide by strict tradition refuse to leave their homes.

In response to this humanitarian crisis, a coalition of organisations headed by the United Nations and including UNICEF, is currently assessing damage and coordinating humanitarian assistance for the displaced families, particularly children.

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© UNICEF Colombia/2005
Bullet holes cover the walls of this government building.

“We ran away during the shooting because they wanted to shoot their homemade rockets,” said Florixa Mestizo, a 12-year old displaced Nasa child.

According to UN assessment teams, gunfire and mortar rockets inflicted severe damage to schools, churches and hospitals in the area.  In the town of Toribio, some 140 houses were totally or partially destroyed.  Widespread destruction has been reported in the nearby towns of Jambaló, Torotó, Balboa, and Silvia, but the area is still deemed too dangerous for teams to inspect.  There is also great concern about anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance scattered in the area.

Since the conflict began, approximately 27 shelters have been set up to provide temporary housing. UNICEF is supporting children by supplying emergency food, first aid, medical supplies, and psychological care.

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© UNICEF Colombia/2005
The town of Toribío has become uninhabitable.

“We are trying to reach the most affected areas, to evaluate and quantify the magnitude of needs, and provide a response to indigenous and State authorities that benefits the population,” said UNICEF Humanitarian Action Officer Jorge Vallés.

The Ombudsman office reports that approximately 44,067 Nasa people are at risk.  Since the Cauca region is near Ecuador, it is a strategic point for the FARC. Until the fighting stops, the zone will likely remain volatile and dangerous for Nasa families and children.

“We are reporting this situation of attacks against the civil population, including children, internationally. Several minors have died and many others are wounded. We are concerned for the protection of human rights of children,” said Vallés.

UNICEF is also initiating an education campaign, in collaboration with Colombian and indigenous authorities, about the dangers of mines.


 

 

Video

UNICEF Colombia correspondent Curtis Glick reports on the armed conflict in Colombia and on the crisis faced by displaced families. 

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Part 2
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