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Conflict displaces Colombia's poor
Fighting between left-wing guerillas and paramilitaries forcing thousands to flee.
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2007 12:03 GMT
More than 200,000 Colombians are
internally displaced every year
Thousands of people have been forced out of their homes during Colombia's 40-year conflict between left-wing guerillas, illegal paramilitaries and the government.

Al Jazeera's Mariana Sanchez travelled to one of the worst affected areas, Choco, a poor jungle region by the San Juan river in the west of the country.

The dense jungle of the Choco region can turn into a frontline any time, any day.

Entire towns along the San Juan river are forced to flee when fighting breaks out between the left-wing fighters of the Ejercito Popular de Liberación and the paramilitaries.

One in eight people in the region is internally displaced, refugees in their own country.

So when Antonio Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, visited the area on Thursday farmers and their children in the town of Bebedo dressed in their best clothes to meet him and set out their complaints.

'Forgotten town'

"This town, like others along the San Juan river, has been forgotten by the government," one farmer told the high commissioner.

Police were stationed in Bebedo after a battle in the small town two years ago.

Locals are caught up in fighting between the
government, guerrillas and paramilitaries
Policarpa Rivas fled with her family after that outbreak of fighting. She has returned but left her nine children in a town two hours away by boat.

"I left them because I fear what could happen. Our communities are living in danger, we are afraid," she told Al Jazeera.

The United Nations says that 200,000 more people are internally displaced every year and more than one-third of them are Afro-Colombians, one of the poorest groups in the country.

Policarpa said she was hopeful that the high commissioner's visit would highlight the needs of thousands of Colombians who want to return to their homes.

But before they can go home they need identity documents and here the UN, in a joint operation with the government, can help. In the nearby town of Andagoya hundreds of farmers are being registered.

"I think we need to do our best to work together, to mobilise our efforts of all the actors involved for these people to be able to enjoy their right and be fully dignified citizens," Guterres told Al Jazeera.

The government spends $400m every year on the problem but while the war continues, fuelled by the drug trade, the numbers of internally displaced people will only continue to rise.
Source:
Al Jazeera
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