Hundreds of people have been displaced by incursions into Venezuela by irregular armed groups from Colombia and reported armed clashes along the border between the two countries, the United Nations refugee agency said today as it appealed to all combatants to respect the rights of the civilian population.
"These events signal a worrying escalation of the Colombian conflict and underscore the growing humanitarian impact on the countries neighbouring Colombia," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Kris Janowski said of the incursions.
Mr. Janowski said an estimated 200 persons, including more than 90 children, fled the remote Rio de Oro area of northwestern Venezuela when Colombian paramilitaries entered the zone two weeks ago. UNHCR has also received unconfirmed reports that some 600 others had fled into the surrounding mountainous area.
"UNHCR appeals to all combatants to respect the rights of the civilian population, and to all governments in the region to continue to abide by their international obligations and ensure the right to asylum," Mr. Janowski said, adding that the agency also, "requests the Venezuelan authorities to provide all the necessary security guarantees for humanitarian staff to undertake an assessment mission to the area as soon as possible."
In the last two weeks there have been reports of armed clashes between Colombian guerrilla and paramilitaries in the border zone, according to UNHCR. These irregular armed groups also reportedly clashed with the Venezuelan army. Last weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared that he had ordered a bombing raid against suspected Colombian irregular forces inside Venezuelan territory.