UN agency voices new concern over civilians caught up in Colombian fighting

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) yesterday sent a team to Bebedó, where clashes between left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries are reported to have left at least 12 people dead, including a 7-year-old girl and three other civilians, and 13 people wounded.The majority of the 800 inhabitants of Bebedó, in Chocó province, tried to flee but irregular armed groups prevented most of them from doing so, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.In the Bojayá area, also in Chocó, the situation continued to be critical, with indigenous communities still blockaded by irregular armed groups, she added. There was concern that with the onset of the dry season in December-January, new clashes between armed groups would ensue.UNHCR is scheduled next week to lead a joint initiative with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the intergovernmental International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Colombian Government Social Solidarity Network to build community centres in several returnee communities in the Bojayá area.In an unrelated incident on Monday, a fragmentation grenade exploded about 50 metres from the UNHCR Office in Quibdó, the provincial capital of Chocó. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which left at least three people dead and six injured. No agency staff were injured and the office was not damaged by the blast.UNHCR is also moving to counter the serious humanitarian challenges facing internally displaced people (IDPs) in slums near Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. Starting this week, the agency is establishing a regular presence in Altos de Cazucá, one of the main concentrations of IDPs sheltering some 25,000 to 30,000 people.The IDPs asked for a more regular international presence, which they say will help them feel safer in an area plagued by murders and human rights abuses and where irregular armed groups have been accused of conducting a campaign of terror and intimidation, Ms. Pagonis said.Bogotá continues to be a main destination of IDPs fleeing violence in the countryside, where decades of war with leftist guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries have displaced millions. Government figures estimate the capital’s IDPs at 86,000 while non-governmental organizations (NGOs) put the total at close to 210,000. Estimates of the total number of the Colombia’s IDPs vary between 2 million and 3.5 million.

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