“They were going to recruit the children”: speak the displaced by the war between guerrillas in Colombia

On the banks of the Meta river, Tanya rocks in a hammock one of the two daughters with which fled his indigenous community from Venezuela a week ago, when the guerrillas threatened them saying that a war between the ELN Y the FARC and they need troops, even if they are five years old, like his eldest daughter.

They fled to the other side of the Meta River, to Puerto Carrenocapital of the Colombian department of Vichada, where 936 people from 277 families have arrived displaced in recent days of a conflict that began hundreds of kilometers to the northwest, in Arauca.

In that department, the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and two fronts of the FARC they declared a war that has spread throughout the border with Venezuela where the groups hide at the expense of the communities.

In the riverside communities or even in the rural areas of the Venezuelan state of Apure, where a large indigenous population lives, armed persons have come to threaten, to evict entire areas or looking for new staff to nurture their ranks.

“They were recruiting children, so we didn’t want them to take our children,” he explains to EFE, Tania, a young indigenous Amoruba whose name has been changed for security reasons. They were told that “whoever she didn’t leave the children with would be killed”, so they ran away with what they had.

Now, she and 120 other people are camped on the banks of a very low Meta river due to the harsh summer and from where they can barely get fish. Most of them are small children, babies in arms or little ones who run around stumbling, and who play in the shade of three large trees.

They have built small huts with plastic tarpaulins where they sleep and survive with what they can: “I have seen some of them in the center asking the greengrocers to give them a piece of banana that they are not going to sell or a piece of yucca… are living right now, what they get,” he assures EFE the indigenous governor Henny Gutierrez.

fear and helplessness

55% of the people displaced to Puerto Carreño are indigenous migrants, but there is also a large number of Venezuelan peasants who have had to cross the border (42%), according to figures from the Ombudsman which admits that the phenomenon is possibly much larger.

In fact, Colombian farmers from Aceitico, a small fishing village about 100 kilometers north of Puerto Carreño, say that a few days ago many Venezuelans arrived. “The people who came from Venezuela to Colombia are not because they wanted to, it’s because they were told: ‘tomorrow there will be no one here,'” explains one of the displaced in Puerto Carreño.

The riverside paths are “overwhelmed by people” who have come with what they had; he himself says that he collected the catch of the day, hid his things in the bush and threw himself into the river in search of a safer place.

“The elenos (ELN) fight with the FARC,” says this man, who assures that “there where we were they were killing a few people, about 12.” They don’t know why, but they knew they had no choice but to run.

A woman who came from San Carlos del Meta (Venezuela) with his children, he says in a whisper: “Groups arrived armed outside the law, many wanted to take their children, others to please dissipate that this was their territory, that they were going to order them out of there” .

War declaration

The problem worsened when on January 2 the ELN, which has its kingdom in Arauca and that border area, began a wave of selective assassinations of alleged members of the 10th and 28th fronts of the FARC dissidents who have long wanted to conquer their territory.

The dissidents responded with several attacks, assassinations of social leaders and threats to the civilian population.

To date there is 34 deadaccording to official figures, although organizations report more and in Arauca there are almost 1,500 displaced people. The State has done little since then in a territory where it has barely entered since peace was signed with the FARC in 2016.

“There are clashes between the irregular armed groups, we have to call things by their name, that is what is generating the forced displacement of the communities,” Colombian Ombudsman Carlos Camargo told EFE, stressing that these people have “a common denominator: hunger, abandonment and fear”.

“The problem of public order is them, among their people, among the armed groups,” says another displaced person, who also requests anonymity.

The conflict between two guerrilla groups that supposedly have a common enemy, the Colombian State, is felt along almost the entire border and the most affected, as usual, are the residents: “they have the conflict there, but we who work on the river, the fishermen, suffer because they take us out, because they say they don’t want to see civilians anywhere to get in the way”

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