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Colombia: civilians blockaded after fighting between army and irregulars - UN

29 July 2005 Cut off by an armed blockade following intense fighting in southern Colombia between irregular armed groups and the military, local communities are suffering from a severe shortage of food and other essential items, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

“Confining the civilian population in a conflict zone is harming the people of Putumayo and Nariño and we call for their freedom of movement and rights to be respected,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.

It was the latest in a series of warnings UNHCR has issued in recent months over the devastating impact that four decades of fighting between leftist rebels, Government forces and rightist paramilitaries have had on the civilian population throughout the Andean country, where more than 2 million people have been displaced in the biggest humanitarian crisis in the western hemisphere.

Ms. Pagonis noted that on 25 June, irregular armed groups attacked a Colombian military base in the town of Teteyé on the border between Colombia and Ecuador, killing 22 Colombian soldiers and that because of the subsequent blockade, the local population is unable to move freely and is now caught in the violence.

“The disruption in transportation is leading to a severe shortage of food and other essential items. Prices have skyrocketed in the area. Gasoline and electricity are in short supply following attacks on petroleum installations,” she said.

“We urge all parties to allow persons in the combat zones to move to safer areas and to permit humanitarian workers to reach people in need of assistance. We are working with the local authorities to develop and implement a humanitarian assistance plan for the civilian population. Freedom of movement is essential in order to deliver aid where it is needed.”

In the country at large, UNHCR is working with the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other UN agencies to protect the rights of internally displaced persons. Tens of thousands of Colombians have also taken refuge in neighbouring countries, especially in Ecuador but in also Panama and Venezuela.


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