Situation Critical in the South of Bolívar

The following information was received from Project Counselling Service, which works with displaced and refugees in Colombia. Write to to contact Project Counselling Service by e-mail.

The situation in the south of the department of Bolívar reached crisis point in the final week of June and the first days of July, following a mass exodus by peasant families from the districts of San Luis, San Blas, Monterrey, Maya and Caño Frío, as well as from La Carolina Estate and the villages of Humareda and Ahuyama (district of Simití). Peasants were also displaced from Carmen de Cucú (municipality of San Pablo) and from the district of Cantagallo.

Hundreds of People Displaced in San Pablo and Simití

The paramilitary incursion which began in early June (reported in a previous bulletin) has continued. On July 1, two peasants from the village of Fonte, in the district of Simití, were abducted and taken to an unknown destination. Although most local peasants have sought refuge in the main town of the San Pablo, others have fled to urban zones in the districts of Simití and Santa Rosa del Sur.

Meanwhile, 175 families from Carmen de Cucú, a major rice growing area, have arrived in San Pablo. According to local authorities, as of July 2, a total of 2,187 people had poured into San Pablo (see details below), without counting those who arrived aboard seven trucks in recent days.

This latest exodus was prompted by further death threats from paramilitary groups warning peasants that they face danger if they remain on their lands. Although in a local television interview the supposed leader of a paramilitary group denied that his forces were pressuring local residents to leave their homes, more and more terrified peasant families continue to pour into the urban areas of San Pablo.

According to a preliminary survey by the local authorities, at least 2,600 displaced people have taken refuge in the urban area of San Pablo. As this report was being prepared, the situation in the municipality was becoming critical. Despite intense efforts by local authorities, it has been extremely difficult to assist the displaced families, since no aid has been sent by the central government or by the governor's office of Bolivar.

According to the Corporación Cleber, 110 displaced families totalling 467 people (139 men over the age of 14, 149 women and 179 children) remain in the town of Simití. Another 10 displaced families from Cerro de Burgos remain in Santa Rosa del Sur and several other families have taken refuge in the village of San Blas (district of Simití).

Meanwhile, in the town of Simití, there are growing rumours of a paramilitary incursion and the population remains in a state of alert, fearful of what might happen. A contingent of the army's Galán Battalion has been deployed in the town along with police units under the command of Captain Fabio Rodríguez. The commander of the military contingent, Lieutenant William Murcia, announced that his troops had clashed with paramilitaries on Monday morning, at La Ye, located just outside the urban zone of this municipality.

Crisis Over Delays in Humanitarian Aid

Displaced peasants sheltering in Simití and San Pablo have urged representatives of the Interior Ministry, the Office of the Presidential Counsellor for Human Rights, and the High Commissioner for Peace to send a high-level delegation to resolve security problems in their communities. The peasants say they will not leave their shelter areas until the authorities address the problems of security and adopt the necessary measures to guarantee their safe return to their home communities or their relocation elsewhere. Meanwhile, immediate emergency assistance is required to resolve the problems of food, shelter and health care for these displaced families.

For their part, government representatives admitted that they are unable to respond immediately to these basic demands, but said they are trying to obtain resources to deal with the emergency. It is not clear how the displaced families will cope in the meantime.

At a meeting with human rights organizations on July 3, the Presidential Counsellor for Displaced People, César Manuel García Niño, claimed that the government had already sent food and basic sanitation supplies for the displaced families and that special funds had been assigned to the municipalities of San Pablo, Simití, and Santa Rosa del Sur. However, the mayors of these municipalities say they have still not received the funds promised by García Niño.

In Simití, the Corporación Cleber has made major efforts to assist the displaced and has received funds from PCS to help deal with the emergency. Displaced families in Simití have waited for more than three weeks for emergency relief, which has been extremely slow in arriving.

On June 11, a group of 200 paramilitaries occupied the village of Cerro de Burgos for nearly three hours, murdered three villagers, looted homes and shops, and destroyed several houses.

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