Ref: Vigía del Fuerte and Bellavista plea for stopping military operations. Urgent support is needed to alleviate humanitarian crisis

* On this Tuesday, May 7, at 14:00 hours it came to our knowledge that a "Mirage" aircraft had performed an over-flight during which it dislodged nine (9) bombs in the area of Napipi and Bojayá, in the department of Chocó.

* Since Monday, May 6, the IV Army Brigade impeded access to the zone affected by these recent events. According to the journalists, the FARC-EP had notified them to enter the area in order to verify what was taking place.

* On May 6, at 18:00 hours, in Quibdó, the Vida, Justicia y Paz Commission and the Diocese of Quibdó provided information to national and international human rights organizations regarding the serious situation of insecurity the inhabitants of Bellavista and Vigía del Fuerte, Napipi and Murindó are facing, owing to the military offensive assisted by aerial attacks.

* The indiscriminate aerial action resulted, yesterday, in irreparable damage to the afro-colombian communities who have been forced to evacuate. In the case of Napipi, two afro-colombian were wounded, and the young woman MARIA UBERTINA MENA (21 years old) was murdered after the air operations that have been deployed since last Saturday. According to the information available, the number of victims can be larger since the official aerial attacks are indiscriminate against nearly 3,000 inhabitants of the area.

* At the same time, it is feared that the air and fluvial operations that are being expanded in radius will, during the next few days, apply the same methods and mechanisms aimed at the towns that lie on the basins of the rivers Jiguamiandó, Truandó, Salaquí and Cacarica. Several of these settlements have reported the noise of aircraft flying in the early hours of the dawning day since last Saturday.

* At Bellavista and Vigía del Fuerte, no humanitarian response has been forthcoming from the State, in spite of the official announcements made through the mass media. Until now, humanitarian assistance in terms of blankets, medicines and food supplies have been provided by the Colombian Red Cross and the Diocese of Quibdó.

* Last Saturday May 5, 2002, the Vida Justicia y Paz Commission and the Diocese of Quibdó, reported that at Vigía del Fuerte state military action had impeded humanitarian assistance and precluded all search operations to look for murdered or missing people. More fatalities among the civil population are to be expected due to the intervention of the Air Force and Navy. This plea and information were dismissed by the Colombian State.

* Since Sunday, April 21, the Diocese of Quibdó, and other entities belonging to the Catholic church and human rights organizations reported the military incursion, as part of the paramilitary strategy, into Vigía del Fuerte, after crossing throughout the bed of the river Atrato, in particular around the municipality of Riosucio. In Riosucio, the military units are performing strict control of the circulation of assets and river transportation since December 20, 1996.

* Since that Sunday in April until Wednesday, 1rst May, the paramilitary expanded their action all the way to Bellavista using threats, intimidation led by a commander in chief who responds to the alias of "Camilo". In spite of the information that has been delivered and repeatedly reiterated to the state and government agencies, no reaction has been forthcoming from the Public Force against the actions perpetrated by this group of nearly 200 men clad in fatigues and bearing long weapons.

* On Wednesday, 1rst May, combats took place that resulted in the military surrounding by the FARC EP at Vigía del Fuerte while the confrontations at Bellavista have been acutely intensified.

* On Thursday, May 2 between 8:00 and 10:00 hours, local time, the military confrontations between the FARC EP and the paramilitary continued. At approximately 10:15 hours, local time, a cylinder exploded, affecting the chapel-temple where the population had gathered for protection. More than one hundred people were killed and dozens were wounded.

Notwithstanding the plea and reports the Diocesan Church had sent asking for the air and fluvial operations to cease, and in spite of the international requests made to the national Government, the military deployment continues along with the military action. This has not only exacerbated the fear of the afro-colombian population but also humanitarian assistance is being obstructed, thus generating serious and systematic infringement of human rights. The State is also incurring in grave infringement of humanitarian international law in the attempt to confront the FARC EP through the use of illicit warfare methods and aims.

We hereby request the national and international human rights organizations, the humanitarian agencies, solidarity groups to demand from the Colombian state headed by the President in office, ANDRES PASTRANA ARANGO, Supreme Chief in Command of the Military Forces to:

1. Cease air, fluvial and ground military operations being launched in the intermediate and low Atrato River, of which the government is clearly aware.

2. That a temporary and bilateral cease-fire be declared for all armed hostilities in order to enable humanitarian assistance launched by the Catholic Church, human rights organizations to reach the civil population.

3. That an immediate response be given to the humanitarian crisis by adhering to the provisions of Article 17 of Protocol II under the Geneva Conventions and to Law 387 regarding food, health status and housing for the victims. That this assistance be provided through the Social Solidarity Network and that a Humanitarian Act be urgently issued to acknowledge this need for institutional response to civil issues.

4. That authorization be granted for the national and international mass media to gain access to the area, in order to collect testimonials and information that will keep them abreast of the situation.

To humanitarian agencies, solidarity groups and churches, to provide humanitarian assistance to be coordinated through the Vida, Justicia y Paz Commission, the Diocese of Quibdó, regarding the necessary humanitarian support through medical and technical support and the provision of emergency supplies for the affected population.

Vida, Justicia y Paz Commission, Diocese of Quibdó
Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace

Colombia, Mayo 7, 2002