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Fighting between FARC dissidents and ELN displaces more than 1,000 indigenous people

The clashes in Nariño are due to territorial disputes between both groups and have caused injuries to several civilians, according to community complaints

ELN Choco Indigenous
ELN members during a military exercise in Chocó (Colombia), in November 2017.Ivan Valencia (Bloomberg)

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Nearly 1,400 indigenous people from the Awá El Sande reservation, in the Colombian municipalities of Samaniego and Santacruz (Nariño), have been displaced due to fighting between the Franco Benavides Front, which is part of Estado Mayor Central (the top dissident group to split from the FARC guerrilla, under the command of Iván Mordisco), and the Frente Comuneros del Sur, of the National Liberation Army (ELN). The clashes are due to the demobilized guerrilla dissidents’ desire to enter that subregion of southern Colombia and regain control of several areas previously dominated by FARC, but now under the control of the ELN.

The situation was highlighted by the Ombudsman’s Office in an Early Warning issued in July 2023. In it, the agency indicated that these confrontations were imminent and that there would be a “hardening of pressures and stigmatization of the population and its leadership by both illegal groups.” The fighting began on September 13 and continued until this past Friday, as confirmed by Harold Montufar, a human rights defender from Samaniego.

Displaced people have been settling in the Samaniego sports center, according to the indigenous governor of the El Sande Reservation, Juan Carlos Meneses. The community reported on social media that there are injured people as a result of the fighting, which constitutes a violation of International Humanitarian Law protecting civilians from the actions of armed groups. In the villages of Claraval and Campoalegre, several families are confined to their homes and “they have put up white flags so that the armed groups will not attack.”

Displaced pesons at the sports center of Samaniego (Nariño) on September 15, 2023.
Displaced pesons at the sports center of Samaniego (Nariño) on September 15, 2023.Harold Montufar (Cortesía)

Displaced persons have asked for personal hygiene supplies, food, sleeping mats, and for the High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, together with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to come to the region to mediate between the armed groups and allow civilians to return to their homes without being attacked. This fighting is new, says Meneses, noting it had not occurred so far this year.

Both the FARC dissidents and the ELN are in dialogue with the Colombian government. In fact, the guerrilla is in a current ceasefire with the military forces. However, this cessation does not apply to disputes between armed groups, which affects the population caught in the middle of these confrontations.

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