Puerto Carreño, Colombia, Jan 28 (EFE).- Tania and her two daughters are one of the 277 families who were forced to flee their indigenous communities in Venezuela due to threats that their sons and daughters would be recruited to fight in a conflict between Colombian guerrillas.
Together with 936 other people, they traveled across the Meta River to Puerto Carreño, capital of the eastern Colombian department of Vichada, where they are currently camping on the river banks in makeshift huts and plastic tents.
“They were recruiting children, we didn’t want them to take ours,” Tania, a young Amoruba indigenous woman whose name has been changed for security reasons, tells Efe.
Tania’s eldest daughter is just five years old.
The families are escaping a conflict that has broken out in Arauca, on the border with Venezuela, between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
“They said whoever didn’t leave their children would be killed,” Tania says.
Over 50% of displaced people in Puerto Carreño are indigenous migrants while 44% are Venezuelans who fled to save their children from being recruited by rebel armed forces.
“Armed groups arrived, they wanted to take our children. Some of us were told to leave, they claimed it was their territory,” a woman who fled with her children to Puerto Carreño from San Carlos del Meta, in Venezuela, tells Efe in hushed tones.
The conflict worsened on January 2, when the ELN, which rules Arauca and its border with Venezuela, began selectively assassinating alleged FARC dissidents who had been trying to conquer their territory.
The dissidents responded with attacks, assassinations of community leaders and threats to the local population.
“The clashes between irregular armed groups, let’s call out these groups for what they are, is what is generating the forced displacement of communities,” Colombia’s ombudsman, Carlos Camargo, tells Efe.
While according to official figures 34 people have been killed to date, the figure is likely to be much higher.
But since signing a peace agreement with the FARC in 2016, the Colombian state has stayed out of the territory and its conflict.
The conflict between the two guerrillas extends across the entire border between Colombia and Venezuela, affecting primarily its indigenous and local communities.
“Those of us who work on the river, the fishermen, suffer because they make us leave, they don’t want to see civilians get in their way,” a displaced man says. EFE