At least 14 people have been killed between Dec. 29, 2017 and Jan. 3, 2018 in the Colombian Tumaco area by illegal armed forces that are disputing control over drug trafficking and the territory left by the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.
The country's Ombudsman’s Office issued two alerts Tuesday on the rise in violence in the Tumaco municipality which mainly affects Indigenous, Black and campesino leaders who face “threats, homicides, confinement and forced displacement."
The alerts were directed to the Multisectoral Commission for Rapid Responses on Early Alerts, detailing human rights violations and recommending more military and police presence in the area, and “an integral state response that passes through basic education, health, work, water and basic sanitation services.”
Local and international groups have been sounding alarm over the violence in Tumaco for months. The United Nation had warned late last year that Indigenous leaders, Afro-Colombians and campesinos defending their lands in Tumaco and surrounding regions were under primary targets for the paramilitaries operating in the region.
Amid the killings of the local leaders, Memory’s House Museum, a social organization and collective space in Tumaco, posted a Twitter message urging state action and endorsing peace.
“Tumaco is bleeding out day after day. We support and will support the peace process but #PorFavorNoNosDejenSolos (#PleaseDon’tLeaveUsAlone) #SOSTUMACO,” a Jan. 2 message read.
Meanwhile Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Monday that 2,000 soldiers were arriving at Tumaco, warning “those who stayed outside the [peace] process will face the fierceness of Public Force.”
According to the United Nations Agency for Refugees, during 2017 at least 243 homicides and 1,500 forced displacements were registered in Tumaco. With more than 200,000 inhabitants, Tumaco is one of the most used routes for drug exports to the United States and is the epicenter of a war between 12 criminal gangs fighting for territory.
The Colombian government and the FARC signed a peace treaty in November 2016 that led to the armed group’s demobilization and insertion in Colombia’s political life. The fulfillment of the agreement faces serious obstacles, most importantly the continued murder of social activists and leaders across the nation.
Colombia’s other guerilla, the National Liberation Army, and the Colombian government were expected to resume peace talks Wednesday, in Quito, Ecuador to, among other things, renegotiate the Bilateral, Temporary and National Ceasefire Agreement, which had expired on Jan. 9.
Due to logistic reasons the talks have been postponed to Wednesday, however the armed forces have stated that they would only respond “to offensive actions.”
The National Liberation Army has reiterated their commitment to peace while criticizing the government for not doing enough to stop the spread of paramilitary forces that target social leaders.