About 130 people have been killed and more than 3,000 have been forcibly displaced this year as violence has risen sharply in eastern Colombia, according to the UN and the Catholic Church.
Institutions have called on armed groups to stop the violence and respect international humanitarian law in a joint statement released on Wednesday, after officials visited the Colombian region of Arauca, which borders Venezuela.
“During the visit, the representatives met with authorities, civil society and human rights organizations and expressed solidarity with the communities, victims, civil society organizations and institutions suffering from the violence in the region,” the statement said.
Fighting broke out between the National Liberation Army – the largest left-wing guerrilla group in the country, known by its Spanish acronym ELN – and dissident factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the early hours of January 2, according to Colombian Ombudsman Carlos Camargo.
More than 20 people were killed in those clashes, according to a spokesman for Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reiterated the claims of the UN and the Catholic Church in a separate report released on Monday, saying that fighting between the ELN and dissident FARC forces by early 2022 had caused thousands to flee a ” dramatic increase in violence “on the border between Colombia and Venezuela.
HRW also accused Venezuelan armed forces of carrying out joint operations with ELN guerrilla fighters against FARC dissidents in the border area in early 2022, contributing to the violence in the region.
The HRW report is based on interviews with more than 100 eyewitnesses and alleged victims.
“These testimonies show that the cooperation between the ELN and the Venezuelan security forces goes much further than previously reported,” said Juan Pappier, HRW’s senior US researcher and one of the authors of the report.
“Members of the Venezuelan forces are not just tolerant of ELN aggression, they are participating in joint military operations where the guerrillas are doing the dirty work,” Pappier told CNN.
CNN has contacted the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense for a comment.
The FARC and the ELN began fighting each other in Arauca and the nearby Venezuelan state of Apure in 2006.
The fighting stopped in 2010, by which time at least 868 people had been killed and 58,000 people had been displaced, according to a 2020 HRW report.
This year, however, has seen an increase in violence as the groups compete for control of lucrative drug smuggling routes to the United States and Europe.
The renewed violence comes more than five years after the Colombian government signed a peace deal with the FARC that ended a 52-year-old armed conflict that killed up to 220,000 people and displaced as many as 5 million people.
The Colombian president, Ivan Duque, promised to eradicate violence during his tenure, but it continues to plague rural areas where peace should bring development and new opportunities.
Voters will elect a new president during the election scheduled for May, and many candidates have vowed to undo Duque’s policies by changing Colombia’s approach to security.