Up to 23 people were killed in clashes between rival guerrilla groups in the Arauca region of northern Colombia, according to a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.
Spokesperson Paola Tovar told CNN: “We are working on a preliminary count of 23 victims, but the information is still not clear. It is difficult to get into the area of the clash, so the this number must be handled with care”. .
The first fighting broke out between the National Liberation Army – the largest left-wing guerrilla group in the country known by its Spanish acronym ELN – and Colombian inspector Carlos Camargo, said Colombia’s inspector general. dissident faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the early hours. of January 2nd.
Colombian President Ivan Duque told reporters on Monday that dissident groups ELN and FARC, founded by rebel fighters refused to participate in the Colombian peace process in 2016. are vying for control of illicit economies such as the drug trade.
Camargo said at least 12 families had been displaced because of the violence.
Local human rights groups and Human Rights Watch (HRW) believe the death toll could be even higher.
“We’re very worried about these clashes,” said Juan Pappier, senior research fellow for the Americas at HRW. Pappier told CNN it had received word that 24 people had been killed, along with reports of “abductions and forced evictions”.
Duque said that the Colombian military would deploy two battalions with helicopter and intelligence capabilities to restore calm in Arauca, adding that Defense Secretary Diego Molano would also visit the area on Monday evening. .
The Colombian government has accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of harboring FARC dissidents and ELN fighters, a claim Maduro has repeatedly denied.
On Monday, Duque said: “As you know, these groups have been operating freely on Venezuelan territory with the consent and protection of the dictatorship.”
The FARC and ELN began fighting each other in Arauca, on the border with Venezuela, and in the neighboring state of Apure in Venezuela, in 2006. The fighting stopped in 2010, at which point at least 868 people were involved. were killed and 58,000 were replaced, according to a 2020 HRW report.
Thousands of people fled Apure in March 2021 amid clashes between Colombian armed groups and the Venezuelan army.