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Fighting in Colombia displaces more indigenous people, UN reports

Fighting in Colombia displaces more indigenous people, UN reports

More than 1,000 indigenous Colombians have taken refuge in a school to escape fighting between the army and an irregular armed group, the latest victims of more than 40 years of conflict which has uprooted 3 million people and has recently had a disproportionate effect on the country’s original inhabitants, the United Nations reported today.

“Armed combat, presence of irregular groups, targeted killings and landmines all contribute to the rising trend of forced displacement,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said of the latest incident involving 1,018 Awá in southern Colombia, almost half of them children under16.

The local authorities have delivered food for the past three days, a doctor is on site and UNHCR has offered to meet the needs in water, sanitation and accommodation, Mr. Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

The area is part of the department of Nariño, which in recent years has suffered some of the worst violence in Colombia. Since the start of 2007, there have been 18 cases of mass displacement involving more than 50 people moving at one time within Nariño, forcing more than 10,000 people out of their homes.

The four decades of conflict between Government forces, leftist guerrillas, rightist paramilitaries and criminal gangs has not only affected the south of the Andean country. Over the past year the violence has also uprooted indigenous communities in north-western Chocó region near the border with Panama.

UNHCR has repeatedly warned that some indigenous communities, displaced from land to which they are tied by their culture and traditions, are in danger of disappearing altogether.

Under the UNGuiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the State has a special duty to prevent the forced displacement of indigenous people and others with a special relation to the land and Colombia’s Constitutional Court is holding a hearing today to seek more information from the Government on measures to protect indigenous people.

Indigenous representatives from all over Colombia, including the Awás, are to present the situation in each community, and at the Court’s invitation UNHCR will take part.

Last year, the Court found that there were “persistent gaps” in specific attention to the rights of indigenous people, which could put at risk the cultural survival of displaced communities.

There are 87 different indigenous groups in Colombia, making up 3 per cent of the population of 42 million. They comprise one of the richest and most varied indigenous heritages in the world.