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Friday, Jul. 12, 2002 at 9:16 AM
In the city of Medellin the paramilitaries have been burning the makeshift shacks and assassinating leaders of the displaced communities. In Bucaramanga and Barranquilla leaders have received death threats and in Neiva the police violently attacked and threatened 50 families.
(By Alfredo Castro, ANNCOL Bogotá) In the latest of a series of attacks against Colombia's displaced communities paramilitaries invaded a shantytown in the Western hills of the city of Medellin and set alight the shacks that hundreds of displaced families were living in. The city police force, working in conjunction with the paramilitaries, have prevented journalists and human rights workers from entering the sector although ANNCOL has spoken by telephone with Laura*, one of those affected:
ANNCOL: Can you tell us what happened when the paramilitaries arrived?
Laura: The death squad came into the neighbourhood at about 6am on Sunday [June 30th] and began firing their weapons into the air and accusing us all of supporting the guerrillas. They were making threats and set fire to lots of the shelters in the communities and there was smoke everywhere. They were also stealing tings from people and they shot three people dead. I saw one of the bodies and it was my 16-year-old neighbour and though I didn't see it people are saying that one person was tortured to death by them. The paramilitaries said they everyone must leave the neighbourhood within 36 hours or they would be killed.
ANNCOL: What did the residents do?
Laura: About 500 of us left altogether at about 7am just after the paramilitaries had gone and we headed for the school in Las Independencias [a nearby neighbourhood] where we asked for and received shelter. The head teacher, Norman, was very helpful and said that he would try and organise help although nothing has yet happened.
ANNCOL: Did the police or army intervene?
Laura: The paramilitaries are working together with them and everybody knows that. Some of the paramilitaries are themselves members of the army and police and whenever we appeal for help we are ignored.
According to Norman Correa, the head teacher of the 'Las Independencias' school, "On Monday we informed the city Secretary of Education of what had happened but we have still received no answer from them. Although the 1,500 students are due back on July 15th we do understand that the priority is humanitarian attention for these people and that we cannot just turn them out on the streets but we will need some sort of assistance from the state and so far they are just ignoring the situation."
ANNCOL has learnt that on July 2nd the three guerrilla groups operating in the western hills of Medellin - the FARC, the ELN and the CAP (Armed Commandos of the People) - had driven the paramilitaries out of the sector and had offered to try and provide security to the displaced families. According to local FARC militia commander Rolando, "The paramilitaries are using a strategy of mass urban displacement in an attempt to deprive us of the support of the people in the popular neighbourhoods. But these brutal operations only increase support for our urban units as the people clearly see what the paramilitaries are: that they care nothing for human life and that in reality they are just doing the dirty work of the oligarchy."
Meanwhile on June 24th in the city of Neiva in Huila department the police viciously attacked a group of 50 displaced families that had set up camp on a disused lot in the city. These families had fled their land in neighbouring Caqueta department after the army where ordered to advance into the region in February this year when the government unilaterally ended the peace process with the FARC guerrilla movement.
According to the 'National Coordination for the Displaced' (CND), the police severely beat members of the community including children, detained and took away ten men and threatened to 'disappear' the leader of the community. These families are now living outdoors with no source of food and the CND have called on international solidarity organisations to demand that the Colombian government offer them immediate guarantees of protection as well as a place to shelter and food to eat.
In a separate incident also on June 24th leaflets signed by the AUC, a paramilitary force that works with the Colombian army, started circulating in the city of Bucaramanga. The leaflets said that the AUC were going to kill activists and leaders of the displaced organisations in the city including members of the internationally respected NGO the National Association for Assistance and Solidarity (ANDAS).
According to reports the paramilitaries are angry that these organisations are drawing attention to the plight of the displaced and that they have begun a campaign to assist thousands of families to return to their homes.
The CND has called for all possible protection to be given to those threatened and specifically has asked for international support for Miguel Angel Berrio originally from the northern city of Barranquilla but now living in Bogotá. Angel, a leader of the 'Association for Constructing a Future for the Displaced of Barranquilla' and also an activist with the CND, was forced to flee Barranquilla four months ago after the death squads said that they would kill him within 24 hours if he did not leave. However, since arriving in Bogotá he has received further threats and all requests for protection from the state have been ignored.
* Name changed for safety reasons.
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