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Incursions into Venezuela from Colombia

Briefing notes

Incursions into Venezuela from Colombia

1 April 2003

Incursions into Venezuela by irregular armed groups from Colombia and reported armed clashes in the border between the two countries have reportedly caused the forced displacement of hundreds of people. According to local authorities, human rights NGOs and media sources, some 200 persons, including more than 90 children, fled the remote Rio de Oro area of north-western Venezuela when Colombian paramilitaries entered the zone some two weeks ago. In the town of El Cruce, UNHCR staff interviewed Colombian and Venezuelan subsistence farmers who said they had escaped from the violence and confirmed that a number of families had walked from Rio de Oro and were hiding in the surrounding areas. UNHCR has also received unconfirmed reports that some 600 persons, including indigenous Barí people, had fled into the mountainous area near Rio de Oro.

In the last two weeks there have been reports of armed clashes between Colombian guerrilla and paramilitaries in the border zone. These irregular armed groups also reportedly clashed with the Venezuelan Army. Last weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared that he had ordered a bombing raid against suspected Colombian irregular forces inside Venezuelan territory.

These events signal a worrying escalation of the Colombian conflict and underscore the growing humanitarian impact on the countries neighbouring Colombia. UNHCR appeals to all combatants to respect the rights of the civilian population, and to all governments in the region to continue to abide by their international obligations and ensure the right to asylum. UNHCR requests the Venezuelan authorities to provide all the necessary security guarantees for humanitarian staff to undertake an assessment mission to the area as soon as possible. UNHCR and its partners are ready to assist the local authorities in attending the displaced population's immediate needs for protection and humanitarian assistance.