EL TIEMPO, January 4, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

According to the government, the battles started in the state of Apure, in our neighboring country.

The inhabitants of several municipalities in Arauca, including Tame, Fortul, Saravena, and Arauquita, experienced a New Year’s weekend of terror.

From the earliest hours of Sunday until this Monday, there were fierce battles between the FARC dissidents and the ELN guerrillas. They were at war in the region for control of the drug trafficking routes in our country as well as in Venezuela.

According to preliminary versions, the confrontations were started by the killing of alias Mazamorra, head of the ELN, but Jairo García, the Vice Minister of Defense, said on Monday afternoon that at that time, they were not certain that that was the reason.

Those battles, besides confining thousands of people in their homes, people who had even told the authorities that they wanted to leave the region to look for a safer place, left at least 23 deaths.

That was confirmed on Monday afternoon by Arauca’s Acting Governor Alejandro Miguel Navas, who stated that at that time they had found 23 bodies and that the dead were all men who had belonged to the illegal groups.

This version was confirmed by President Iván Duque himself, who ordered Defense Minister Diego Molano to travel to the region and head up a new security council.

From there, Molano affirmed that they had identified 15 of the dead, and that several of them had criminal records, such as illegal weapons possession. One of them was alias El Flaco Fredy, head of the FARC dissidents. There were two warrants for his arrest. In addition, Molano said that it had all started in the state of Apure, in Venezuela.

Molano also asserted that the battle was between the ELN, allied with the “Second Marquetalia”, and the 10th and 28th Fronts of the FARC dissidents.

According to Duque, “The situation is complicated because many of those combats are  on the edge, right at the border” with Venezuela where, says Duque, “the two groups have been protected and sheltered by the Nicolás Maduro regime.”

Up until Monday night there had been no talk of civilian victims. The Governor said that it has to be established who had killed them and why. “We don’t have anybody that’s disappeared; the bodies are at the morgue, and that’s the reality. The other reality is that there is no massive displacement,” he emphasized.

On the other hand, the Acting Governor commented that there was no “effect on travel on the roads; traffic is moving; the police are doing their jobs.” But, according to information furnished by the Public Defender’s Office, six families had been displaced, “forcibly”, in the municipality of Saravena, as well as another six in Tame.

“In the follow-up to our Early Alert 029 of 2019, besides the homicides, we warned of the risks of illegal retentions, recruitment of boys, girls, and adolescents and forced displacement in the municipalities on the border: Tame, Fortul, Saravena, and Arauquita,” the Office reported.

Faced with this wave of the violence that historically has been a scourge in this department, residents of Arauca set off yesterday, marching to request the violent parties to stop harassing the civilian population, and also to demand more government presence by the authorities.

“We are calling on the human rights agencies to be present in this area. The people are scared and we don’t want to be living with this violence again. We are honest people, campesinos,” said one of the people during the demonstration that went on in Botalón, a rural part of Tame.

The Catholic Church, which has been accompanying the community, is making the same call for help.

“We ask that the civil authorities verify the events, and work to protect the lives and safety of the population (. . .) we request that the international community here in the territory furnish the necessary accompaniment to the civilian population and to their organizations,” stated Bishop Jaime Cristóbal Abril.

These battles are nothing new; the community has been clamoring for months for more guarantees of security.

According to analysts, added to the war that broke out between the ELN and the dissidents recently, is the presence of illegal groups that are coming from Venezuela. There have even been attacks on the Armed Forces, like what happened in September of 2021, leaving five soldiers dead and six wounded.

Activities announced after the security councils

At the conclusion of a security council headed by Duque from Cartagena, where his schedule took him today, they announced the first steps to ensure security in Arauca.

Duque ordered that two battalions be deployed to the territory.

“We are fortifying intelligence and counterintelligence in the department of Arauca, and we are also expanding the capacity for supervision by helicopter as well as airborne; we are going to be using teams of drones,” Duque said.

And, very emphatically, he added, “The message is clear; we are going to fight them, as we have been doing, at full strength in the territory, and we are also going to condemn the connivance and the protection that the dictatorial regime of Nicolás Maduro has been providing to these criminal organizations.”

The ELN’s unusual explanation

The ELN guerrillas, in a communication, gave their version of the awful events of violence that have taken place in the department of Arauca in recent days.

According to them, they were “obligated to defend the territories” from a supposed offensive by the FARC dissidents commanded by alias Arturo Paz.

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