Residents of the Catatumbo region of Colombia, which borders Venezuela, are trapped in their own homes due to an ongoing conflict between two guerilla groups fighting over drug trafficking routes.
“People are trapped in their own homes and the people who dare to go out are intimidated by motorcycle riders who tell them, 'You have to obey the order to strike.' They simply cannot go out or open their businesses,” Bishop Gabriel Ángel Villa Vahos of Oca√±a told RCN Radio April 23.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) and the People's Liberation Army (EPL), two Marxist-Leninist guerilla insurgents, declared war some 40 days ago for control of the drug trafficking routes for about 62,000 acres of coca in Catatumbo, which is a sub-region in northeast North Santander.
The problem worsened with the “armed strike” decreed last week by the EPL which has restricted commerce and people's free movement in the area.
The United Nations has estimated that the conflict has caused more than 4,000 people in the rural areas to leave the region since March 14, El Tiempo reports. It is estimated that there are more than 145,000 people affected in 11 townships.
Bishop Villa appealed to the armed groups to leave the civil population out of their confrontations, “because they are those most affected at this time.”
The bishop stressed that the government needs to make a major effort to address social problems. He said he hopes “there will be an immediate response to the emergency,” that respects the safety of civilians.
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.