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Humanitarian crisis unfolding on border between Colombia and Ecuador

Briefing notes

Humanitarian crisis unfolding on border between Colombia and Ecuador

1 July 2005

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding on the border between Colombia and Ecuador, specifically in the municipality of Ricaurte in Nariño Province, where more than 1,200 indigenous people belonging to the Aw indigenous group have been forced to leave their homes in recent days as a result of heavy fighting between irregular armed groups and the Colombian military.

To date, about 29 Awá families (some 116 people) have crossed into Ecuadorian territory. We fear that hundreds more may be currently displaced in the area or find themselves trapped in their villages by the armed groups, unable to find enough food and living under extremely dangerous security conditions.

We are also concerned that the blockades against the movement of people and goods, the presence of anti-personnel mines and unexploded munitions, as well as heavy material damage and loss of livestock could hamper the reintegration of the displaced in the event they return to their homes following the end of hostilities. In February 2004 the same area of Nariño Province witnessed intense combat and massive internal displacement.

UNHCR, which has offices on both sides of the border, is closely monitoring the situation.

We would also like to call attention to an estimated 4,000 people who may be blocked in a number of communities in Putumayo Province near the municipality of Puerto Asís on the border with the Ecuadorian province of Sucumbíos. The crisis in this region is the result of battles near the town of Teteyé following an attack June 25 by armed guerrilla groups against Colombian military forces that were protecting petroleum installations in the area. We deeply regret the killing of 21 Colombian army soldiers in that attack. Residents of the towns of Teteyé, Nuevo Horizonte, La Cabaña and La Carmelita have been unable to move to safer areas inside Colombia due to the presence of armed groups and the destruction of several bridges during the fighting. Communities further away along the Putumayo River have also been affected.

The fighting has also impeded the civilian population's ability to cross the border in search of safety.

We urgently call for the respect of the rights of the civilian population as well as for the respect of the special protection measures for indigenous populations established under international and Colombian law.