UN refugee agency deplores murder of displaced Colombian families

The United Nations refugee agency today strongly condemned the brutal murders of eight people, including three children, in northwestern Colombia, the latest in a string of attacks against people who had been displaced by the decades-long conflict between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and Government forces.Officials from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are scheduled to travel tomorrow to San José de Apartadó to meet with community members and military authorities, and the agency called on the authorities to prosecute those responsible for “these deplorable crimes” and ensure the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout Colombia who are at risk of violence, threats and intimidation.According to witnesses, unidentified armed men in military fatigues last week abducted Luis Eduardo Guerra, founder of the San José de Apartadó peace community, his wife and 11-year-old son. They were taken to the property of another member of the peace community, who was also held along with his wife and two children aged 6 and 2. The two families, together with another man, were then brutally murdered and their bodies left in a shallow mass grave.The murders are the latest in a series that, according to the community, have left 154 of their members dead since 1997. Peace communities were established in the late 1990s in the region by people displaced by the conflict who gradually began to return. They are committed to peaceful civil resistance and neutrality. They reject the presence in their territory of irregular armed groups and the regular army.Mr. Guerra had represented the San José de Apartadó peace community in talks with the Government.“These murders clearly show the difficult situation facing the peace communities and the risks confronting their leaders,” UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva. “In the last eight years, the Colombian State has not been able to undertake sufficient measures to protect and solve the problems faced by these communities.”Overall more than 1.5 million IDPs throughout Colombia are registered with the Government, but non-governmental organizations (NGOs) estimate there could actually be over 3 million. According to official sources, 74 per cent of the displaced are women and children.

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