In its latest expression of concern on the situation in northwestern Colombia, the United Nations refugee agency today reported fresh violence against indigenous inhabitants caught up in the country’s decades-old civil war between the Government, leftwing rebels and rightwing militias.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) promised to step up its activities in the region to improve protection for Embera-Catío ethnic group.
The inhabitants of Las Playas in the Urabá region are extremely frightened and are considering fleeing to the town of Apartadó following the murder of three of their leaders last week, reportedly by machete-wielding assailants, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.
Fear is also spreading to other indigenous communities in the Urabá region, she said. Guerrilla groups opposed to the Government are known to operate in the zone.
A UNHCR team, which trekked through the jungle on foot to visit Las Playas on Friday after receiving reports that the three leaders had been killed last week, quoted witnesses as saying armed men entered the settlement of some 300 on 6 December and asked for the three by name.
“They then took them to a riverbank and brutally murdered them with machetes,” Ms. Pagonis said. Before leaving the village, they threatened to return. The community had not received any specific threats from any armed group before.
UNHCR’s representative in Colombia, Roberto Meier, pledged that the agency would step up its activities and visits to Las Playas, security permitting, to improve protection for the community. Government officials, including from the offices of the ombudsman, mayor and general prosecutor, as well as the police and the army have also visited the community following the killings.
Overall, UNHCR is working to help the Government respond to the needs of some 2 million displaced people. This includes supporting displaced and at-risk communities, particularly Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups who are often disproportionately affected by the conflict.