Thousands flee Colombia fighting

Heavy fighting between leftist guerrillas and their right-wing paramilitary foes in north west Colombia has forced more than 2,000 mainly villagers from their homes, the UN said today.

Heavy fighting between leftist guerrillas and their right-wing paramilitary foes in north west Colombia has forced more than 2,000 mainly villagers from their homes, the UN said today.

The lives of 4,000 more people who have refused to leave are at risk as the crossfire between the two groups bears down on them, UN officials said after touring the region of Bojaya, some 235 miles north west of the capital Bogota.

The warring factions “are continuing to commit grave breaches of international humanitarian law”, the UN said in a statement. “The access of food and medicine is still being impeded.”

The UN said there was only one doctor to care for 13,000 people in Bojaya, including hundreds of children suffering from malnutrition and disease. Most area schools had to close because of the violence.

The world body also called on authorities to investigate reports of collusion between paramilitary militias and government forces in the region.

President Alvaro Uribe was scheduled to visit Quibdo, the capital of the state in question, tomorrow to launch a programme of medical care and education to 20,000 displaced children, his office said.

Colombia has the largest displaced population in the Western Hemisphere and the third-largest in the world after Congo and Sudan, according to the UN. At least three million people have fled their homes due to the long-running war that dates to the early 1960s.

In May 2002, 119 people huddling in a church in Bojaya were killed when the building was destroyed by a guerrilla mortar bomb. Hundreds fled immediately, and since then there have been at least eight more large-scale displacements in the region, UN officials say.

Colombia’s conflict kills more than 3,000 people every year.

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