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At least 23 killed in armed clashes in Colombia’s Arauca, government says

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.

The groups were fighting over control of illegal
economies such as drug trafficking, Colombia’s army said in a statement late on
Sunday. The violence also displaced 12 families, Colombia’s human rights
ombudsman said.

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 military.

HRW 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, while accusing Venezuela of sheltering FARC
dissidents and the ELN.

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Venezuelan Defence Minister General Vladimir Padrino
ridiculed the accusations on Twitter. Venezuelan military forces stationed in
border municipalities have raised their level of alert in response to the
fighting in Colombia, he added.

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