Fighting broke out over the weekend in Arauca
– which sits on the border with Venezuela – as members of the National
Liberation Army (ELN) fought with dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia (FARC), who reject a 2016 peace deal. They were fighting over
control of illegal economies such as drug trafficking, Colombia’s army said in
a statement late on Sunday.
The violence harks back to the mid 2000s, when
the FARC and ELN fought each other in Arauca and the neighbouring Venezuelan
state of Apure.
By the time fighting ceased in 2010, more than
58,000 people had been displaced in the province and at least 868 civilians had
been killed, according to a report from advocacy group Human Rights Watch
(HRW), which cited the government-run Colombian Victims’ Unit.
Some 5,000 people fled Apure at the end of
March last year amid clashes between Colombian armed groups and the Venezuelan
So far, HRW has received reports of 24 deaths
due to the violence, the group’s senior investigator for the Americas Juan
Pappier said in a message on Twitter, adding that there had also been forced
displacements and kidnappings.
“We are very concerned about the fighting
between the ELN and dissidents of the FARC’s 10th front in Arauca and
Apure,” Pappier said.
Colombia’s President Ivan Duque convened a
meeting of military and police leaders to assess the situation in Arauca and to
take measures to address it.
“I have ordered that two battalions be
deployed within the next 72 hours to help with the task of territorial
control,” Duque said in a video broadcast.
Colombia’s government accuses Venezuela’s
President Nicolas Maduro of harbouring FARC dissidents and ELN combatants,
something Maduro has repeatedly denied.