Norwegian Refugee Council calls for ‘lasting peace’ to end restrictions on freedom of movement across Colombia.

Armed groups in Colombia are locking people into their homes and communities in an attempt to control territory, the Norwegian Refugee Council said, calling on authorities to do more to ensure citizens can move freely.

The NRC said on Thursday millions of people are affected by six “ongoing non-international armed conflicts” in which armed groups use confinement “to exert control over isolated communities and areas often used for illegal activities.”

“Imagine being forced to stay in your house by men with guns – day in and day out. Colombia’s lockdowns prevent you from working, visiting your family or sending your children to school,” Juan Gabriel Wells, NRC’s interim country director in Colombia, said in a statement.

“We call on the Colombian government and non-state armed actors to agree on a lasting peace that benefits the vulnerable populations affected by these inhumane restrictions on movement.”

Thursday marks the six-year anniversary of a peace deal between Bogota and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in which members of the left-wing rebel group laid down their arms. But some FARC dissidents rejected the deal and have taken up arms again.

Violence has increased sharply in Colombia since the accord was signed, especially in parts of the country outside government control where armed groups are involved in drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

Last weekend, at least 18 people died in fighting involving FARC dissidents and a criminal gang calling itself “Comandos de la Frontera” or “Border Commandos” in southwestern Colombia, near the border with Ecuador. The two groups battled for control of drug trafficking routes.

The incident was the deadliest fight between illegal armed groups since leftist Colombian President Gustavo Petro entered in August.

Petro has pledged to bring “total peace” to the country after nearly six decades armed conflict with at least 450,000 deaths between 1985 and 2018 alone.

And earlier this week the government of Petro peace talks started with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s largest remaining rebel group, in neighboring Venezuela.

The delegates said in a joint statement that they had come together to resume dialogue “with full political and ethical will, as demanded by the people of rural and urban areas suffering from violence and exclusion, and other sectors of society” .

The first round of negotiations will last 20 days, with diplomats from Venezuela, Cuba and Norway assisting in the negotiations, while representatives from Chile and Spain will observe the process.

Citing figures from the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), the NRC said on Thursday that more than 2.6 million people had lost their movements limited so far this year due to continued violence, with “Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities among the hardest hit”.

“The rules imposed by the armed groups are: ‘you can’t go outside;’ ‘you can’t use that road;’ “we don’t want to see people passing through here.” We are trapped,” Cecil, an indigenous teacher from the Pacific Coast region, said in the NRC statement.

“Where I live, we are afraid to walk [outside] – we can’t do it freely, ”also said a resident of southwestern Colombia, Nelsa.

FILE PHOTO: Colombia's President Gustavo Petro addresses the media after a rally in Bogota, Colombia on July 22, 2022. REUTERS/Nathalia Angarita/File Photo
President Gustavo Petro has promised to bring “total peace” to Colombia [File: Nathalia Angarita/Reuters]

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