Civilians Killed in Crossfire as Fighting Rages Colombian Region of Cauca
News from Colombia |
on: Friday, 24 April 2009
At least one civilian has been killed and ten others wounded as leftwing FARC guerrillas battle soldiers and paramilitaries in two municipalities of Cauca department in southern Colombia. Large numbers of civilians are believed to have fled the region as a result of the fighting whilst others have been forced to leave after being threatened by a paramilitary death squad that is operating in and around the town of Belleza.
According to the Inter-Church Commission on Human Rights, a religious group that documents abuses in several parts of the country, at least nine heavily armed paramilitaries arrived in Belleza, in Argelia municipality, at around midday on April 9th. The men first visited the home of Miller Mosquera, who they forced out at gunpoint, before also seizing another local resident, Katherine Munoz Alvarez, and forcing both into a blue Toyota pickup. The death squad then drove the two away despite local people pleading for their release and some even following on motorcycles in an effort to save their lives.
However, a short distance out of town, three of the paramilitaries were killed and the others forced to retreat after a FARC guerrilla patrol attacked them. Though Mr Mosquera was able to escape from the death squad and return to the town, Ms Munoz Alvarez was apparently killed instantly after being shot during the attack. However, Mr Mosquera subsequently fled Belleza with his family after the paramilitaries sent a message that his entire family would be murdered if he did not hand himself over to them.
The Inter-Church Commission also reported that in subsequent days paramilitaries from the same group threatened and intimidated residents in the nearby villages of Sinai, San Juan de la Guadua and Bellohorizonte and told locals that they would shortly be imposing a ban on people entering the region with foodstuffs as they believed that these were being provided to the guerrillas.
Meanwhile in the municipality of Caloto fighting between another FARC unit and the military saw another civilian wounded after soldiers apparently used him as a human shield. According to witnesses combat broke out near the rural community of Cuchilla at around 1.30pm on April 11th after members of the 3rd 'Cacique Numancia' Counter-Guerrilla Battalion and the 8th 'Batalla de Pichincha' Infantry Battalion of the Colombian Army were ambushed by the FARC's 6th Front.
The troops are alleged to have entered the home of the Henao Ipia family and established a firing post within it causing 9-year-old Luis Eduardo Henao Ipia to be shot in the crossfire. The soldiers then allegedly accused the boy of being a guerrilla himself and photographed him before allowing his family to take him to hospital. The fighting then moved towards the communities of Placer, el Vergel and el Porvenir causing a large number of peasant farmers to flee the area.
Days later, on April 22nd, the same two military units are alleged to have again used civilians as human shields during fighting with the guerrillas near the village of Huasano. On that occasion pensioner Ema Morales, Luz Mary Perez, Efrain Perez Salazar, Leonel Morales, Leydi Yohana Perez, Yeny Perez, Hector Fabio Perez, 18-month-old Maria Paula Tombe and 3-year-old Sebastian Perez were all wounded.
In a statement issued yesterday the Southwest Colombian Human Rights Network accused Major General Justo Eliseo Pena Sanchez, the Army commander in the region, of being responsible for the civilian casualties and accused the Army of "flagrantly abusing the human rights of local people by forcing them into the line of fire".
For previous news on the situation in Cauca province see:
Aug 2008, Ten People Massacred in Colombia
March 2008, Bombing Injures 25 Civilians
March 2008, Army Attacking Civilians in Cauca Department
Sep 2007, Two more indigenous people murdered
Sep 2007, Indigenous leader assassinated