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:

April 2009, Teacher Killed in Colombia after Reports of Joint Army/Paramilitary Operations

April 2009, Further Attacks on Indigenous Colombians as Indigenous Leader Gunned Down

March 2009, Former Indigenous Governor Assassinated in Colombia

Jan 2009, Soldiers Physically Attack Trade Unionists

Oct 2008, Indigenous Governor Assassinated in Colombia

Sep 2008, Repression Meets Striking Sugarcane Workers in Colombia

Sep 2008, Human Rights Activist Assassinated in Colombia

Aug 2008, Ten People Massacred in Colombia

May 2008, Soldiers Execute Indigenous Brother and Sister

March 2008, Bombing Injures 25 Civilians

March 2008, Paramilitary Alleges Army Involvement in Massacre

March 2008, Army Attacking Civilians in Cauca Department

Feb 2008, Women and Teachers Targeted in Cauca department

Feb 2008, Fear for Civilian Population in Cauca Department

Feb 2008, British-Trained Soldiers Assassinate 3 Indigenous People

Jan 2008, British-Trained High Mountain Battalion Uses Civilians as Human Shields

Jan 2008, Ongoing Assault against Indigenous People in Cauca department

Jan 2008, Colombian Army Battalion Executes Five Civilians

Sep 2007, Two more indigenous people murdered

Sep 2007, Indigenous leader assassinated

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