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News note

Displacement and humanitarian crisis continue in Colombia

Bogotá, April 27, 2005 – Intense combats between the FARC guerrilla and the Colombian Army, beginning last April 14, have displaced more than 6,000 persons – 57% of them children – from the municipalities of Toribío and Jambaló, in the department of Cauca, in the southwestern Colombia.  These towns are inhabited mostly by Nasa (Paéz) Indians, the second most numerous indigenous ethnic group in Colombia, recognized around the world as a symbol of indigenous resistance and being a community of peace.

The armed confrontations took place in the urban area, placing at risk the inhabitants, who fled, terrified and intimidated by the bombs.  The harassment caused varying degrees of damage to the school, the church, and the local hospital.  Some 140 houses were totally or partially destroyed in Torobío, as were an as-yet undetermined number in Jambaló, Totoró, Balboa, Silvia, and other communities in the area.  Although a large part of the population was displaced, just as many persons decided to remain in their homes.

In response to this dramatic situation, a joint United Nations mission comprising OCHA, UNDP, PAHO, UNHCR, OHCHR, WFP, IOM and UNICEF has been present in the zone to ensure and provide humanitarian assistance protection and support to the affected communities, especially children, women, expectant mothers, and elderly persons.

The displaced population is housed in 27 temporary shelters and attention centers, where more than half are children in totally precariousness situations, with great shortages and needs for food, basic supplies and emotional support.

“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.  We have already established a temporary collection center for first aid health care items, tents for providing emergency health care, cooking utensils, tablets and other products for water purification, and equipment for water and sanitation and psychosocial attention,” says Jorge Vallés, UNICEF Humanitarian Action Officer.

One of the most serious concerns is the presence of anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance that place the lives of youths, children and adults at risk.  Various unexploded gas cylinders and mortars have been found, and are being identified and marked to alert the population.  In response to this situation UNICEF, in coordination with the Colombian Campaign Against Mines and indigenous authorities, will initiate an education campaign to explain the risks, train Indian guards, and design a plan for addressing emergencies caused by mines.

Two weeks after the beginning of the confrontations, combat in the urban area of Toribío has diminished, but the situation continues to be highly unstable and very serious in the rural areas and urban centres of Jambaló, Balboa, Totoró, Silvia, El Tambo, Tacuyó and their outlying communities.  The ones most affected are always the children who, in addition to food and health aid, require psychosocial support and accompaniment.

“We are reporting this situation of attacks against the civil population, including children, internationally.  We should not forget that several minors have died and many others are wounded.  We are concerned for the protection of the rights and the human rights violations affecting under-aged persons and their families, and the humanitarian implications in terms of the need being shown for health care and guarantee of education”, concluded Vallés.

UNICEF is maintaining a permanent presence in the zone, with programmes to prevent mine risks and all forms of violence, and to protect children.


For more information, contact
Marisol Quintero G.
Assistant Information & Press Officer
Tel. (571) 3120090 Ext. 439


 

 

 

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