AMERICA/COLOMBIA - Bishop of Tibu says Catatumbo in the grip of battle between guerrilla groups , “deserves reconciliation and peace”

Wednesday, 25 April 2018 armed groups   peace   reconciliation   area crisis   bishops  

Tibú (Agenzia Fides) - “The clamour of war has more impact than the clamour of the people”. This was affirmed by Bishop Omar Sánchez Cubillos of the diocese of Tibú (in northern Colombia), in a video message, sent also to Fides. Commenting a statement from the diocese, the bishop revealed the situation of large areas of the Amazon region of Catatumbo, on the border with Venezuela, whose population is the principal victim of territorial clashes between factions of the ELN (National Liberation Army, officially in a state of ceasefire, pending the return to peace talks with the government) and the EPL (People’s Liberation Army) and respective dissident groups.
Following peace agreements with FARC and its demobilisation, Catatumbo has become a no man land disputed by ELN and EPL which due tocontinual confrontation are in fact at war with each other. On Monday23 April the local press published a video showing six very young members of ELN reportedly kidnapped by EPL dissidents, while the day before the official EPL announced to public opinion its willingness to dialogue. The Bishop said that armed mobilisation without deadline decided by EPL on 15 April has as a consequence the confinement of civilians in all their movements, victims of violence and terror on the part of the guerrilla fighter,. “We see that those who dominate the territory with arms decide who enters, who leaves, who works, who lives and who dies”, he accuses. War has a limit, warns Bishop Sánchez, calling on the rebel groups to obey international humanitarian law, which protects the population, and warns that unless measures are taken the economic crisis will come with the interruption of social processes which had started to allow the area to make progress.
The Bishop makes an urgent request to the state to be more present to stem the imminent depopulation of civilians, speaking of a possible humanitarian crisis. “As state and as Church, in keeping with our competences - we must help communities to adopt visible and efficient measures of protection. This we are doing as a diocese, in schools and in some villages”. Then, underlining that priests will continue to accompany the communities, he asks the Colombia people to pray, encouraging his diocesans to draw lessons from the crisis, “because Catatumbo deserves reconciliation and peace”.
The press statement also denounced media disinformation on the matter. Bodies such as the United Nations and the Organisation of American States confirm however, there have been no armed clashes but nevertheless, “symbolic violence is structured and diffused with the imposition of norms and threats to the population”. The UN speaks of at least 144,000 suffering from serious restrictions in access to services and first necessity goods and also limited mobility, 2,819 are homeless and 44,829 children denied access to school. Minors, old people, young people, pregnant mothers and indigenous communities are the sectors most affected. “The strategies used in this scenario of control”, the statement warns, “attack the emotional and psychosocial state of individuals and communities, clothing them in silence, nurtured by the sensation of fear and anguish”. (SM) (Agenzia Fides 25.04.2018)