EL TIEMPO, December 8, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Ever since last January 1, bloody combat between the guerrillas and the FARC Dissidents has broken out.

In Arauca, and especially in the area of the foothills, the people are afraid. The war between the ELN and the FARC Dissidents, now nearly a year old, has them trapped.

It’s not only the combat in the rural area, but also the cases of selective murders, kidnappings, disappearances, and the attacks with explosives in the urban areas.

There has been a silent displacement that is now calculated at more than 20,000 people. There are also towns that are confined and bullet-ridden bodies on the roads, because of the killings that have become almost common. It’s not for nothing that the report shows more than 340 civilians killed this year.

In the last ten days, (through Tuesday), 17 people were killed. Five civilians were killed on Monday alone, in only two hours.

Add to that the recruitment of children, which is very high, although, according to the authorities, it’s something not talked about. “There are boys, girls, Venezuelans. They are part of all the groups,” said an official source. But they have also launched grenades at the headquarters of human rights organizations, the Chamber of Commerce of Saravena,  transportation companies, and hardware stores.

And that’s without mentioning that it’s estimated that more than 80 people have been kidnapped and disappeared this year, including at least five children. The ELN even set two children free this Thursday. The two had been in their power since November 24.

According to the Ombudsman, Carlos Camargo, this year 12 social leaders have been killed in Arauca. Agency statistics show that there have been 114 murders in Saravena, followed by Tame with 76 murders, Arauquita, 47, Fortul, 47, Arauca Municipality, 42, Puerto Rondón, 5, Cravo Norte, 1, and Cubará in Boyacá, 4.  Without doubt it’s in the rural areas that people are feeling the most fear. “The countryside is being left all alone,” a resident of Tame told EL TIEMPO.

The war between the two groups is being felt particularly in the borders between Tame, Puerto Rondón, and Arauquita. It’s a fight whose cause is not entirely clear. We only know that it started on the 1st of January of this year, when a group of ELN killed 20 alleged members of the Dissidents in a bloody operation that took less than two days. The majority of the bodies were thrown down on the side of a road.

Nobody knows how many armed men are involved in the dispute, but those that have seen it are sure that it’s more than a thousand.

Alias Rambo commands the ELN, and “Antonio Medina”, who said a few weeks ago that before the year was over he would kill 300 people in Arauca, commands the Dissidents. He retracted that later, on the orders of his superiors.

Although it could be said that there was an agreement between the two groups on the parceling out of the territory, with the highway that leads from Arauca to Tame as the dividing line, with this war, at times, the map is changed.

For Senator José Vicente Carreño, of Arauca, “the fight is for the control of the countryside.” At all events, the war continues and the proof of that is that in Saravena the businesses are closing their doors at 5:00 p.m.

Doubtless, that’s why Arauca has turned into a challenge to progress in the dialogs undertaken between the government and the ELN.

It’s no secret that one of the first issues that the government and the guerrillas will try to agree on will be a multilateral ceasefire, and the situation in Arauca will be an issue in the discussion.

It’s likely that the ELN delegates will ask the government to consider cessation of all the kinds of hostilities that are going on in an irregular war with the Dissidents.

In the region, people think that achieving a point of agreement between the two parties to the conflict ought to be the government’s job, as it’s the only entity that could achieve it. And even though the Peace Commissioner Danilo Rueda and the Senate’s Peace Committee, and even a brother of President Gustavo Petro, they say, were in Arauca a few days ago, what’s true is that the war is still going on.

“If alias Pablito (boss of the ELN’s “Domingo Laín” Front) isn’t sitting at the table, the dialog with the ELN won’t go anywhere,” commented Senator Carreño.

But the matter isn’t just to silence the guns in that part of the country, but rather that eventually there would be the possibility of a ceasefire between the parties, and also those who can verify it.

And added to that is the fact that the battles between the two groups are not just taking place in Arauca territory, There have also been battles in the state of Apure (Venezuela) where both groups are present.

And in Arauca, with lowered voices, they even say that this war is largely because of the drug traffickers, because they have to have the corridor cleared to be able to take the drugs to Venezuela, to the place they use to send them to Central and North America.

That’s why there are those who say that the Dissidents have strengthened themselves exponentially, not just in men, but also in their weapon capacity, and they say that all of this is because of the support by the drug traffickers.

Because of that, it doesn’t seem to be a simple matter, because the dispute over territory that’s going on in this eastern part of the country will make it very complicated to silence the guns in Arauca, although in Caracas they are talking about peace.

And even though there have been approaches and dialogs between the commanders of the ELN and the Dissidents, it has not been possible to reach an agreement.

Therefore, everything indicates that it will be up to the government to find a way to reach a truce in this department and thus advance the dialogs that are going on in Caracas. But also in this department people insist that the government has abandoned them.

“Speaking up for life in Arauca brings very serious consequences,” said Mayerly Briceño, a resident of the settlement El Botalón. At the middle of the year she had to flee from the settlement after she led some marches pressing for the end of the violence. “I think it’s time to call on the national government and also on the Peace Commissioner to come here in person and pay some attention to what’s going on in Arauca (. . .). It’s time to give us some attention,” said Senator Jairo Alberto Castellanos, of ASI, the Indigenous Social Alliance.

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