Intense fighting between leftist guerrillas and their right-wing paramilitary foes in western Colombia has forced more than 2,000 mainly Afro-Colombian villagers from their homes in recent weeks, the United Nations said.
In the latest forced displacement, more than 70 percent of the 350 residents of Pogue, a tiny hamlet 380 kilometers (235 miles) northwest of Bogota, fled Saturday as the crossfire between the two groups bore down on them, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees said in a statement released late Monday.
Colombian government officials and human rights workers helped the villagers escape the violence, leading them to the nearby town of Bellavista, where relatives and others are providing shelter, with up to 45 people under one roof, the report said.
The U.N. agency said the situation was “worsening” and warned that some 4,000 indigenous Indians from the Embrera and Wounaan tribes in the same region were also at risk due to the “severe hardship and insecurity caused by the presence of illegal armed groups on their land.”
Colombia has the largest displaced population in the Western Hemisphere and the third-largest in the world after Congo and Sudan, according to the United Nations. At least 3 million people have fled their homes due to the long-running war that dates to the early 1960s.
The western province of Choco, where Pogue is located, has been particularly badly hit by forced displacement. In May 2002, 119 people huddling in a church in the Choco town of Bojaya were killed when the building was destroyed by a guerrilla mortar bomb. Hundreds fled immediately, and since then at least eight more large-scale displacements have taken place the, the UNHCR said.
Two leftist rebel groups are locked in a fight against Colombia’s government and a handful of outlawed right-wing paramilitary militias in a 40-year-old conflict that claims more than 3,000 lives a year.