Colombia: thousands displaced in new fighting

More than 3,000 members of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been displaced over the past week as Litoral de San Juan municipality of Colombia's Chocó department has been convulsed by a three-way conflict between government troops, ELN guerillas and remnant right-wing paramilitary forces. The majority of the displaced have taken refuge in the municipal center as fighting engulfs outlying hamlets, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Some of the displaced have started to voluntarily return, although the threat of violence remains. (El Espectador, April 22)

The new fighting comes as Colombia's government continues to move toward resolving the country's long internal conflict. Opponents of the peace dialogue with the FARC guerillas were further sidelined as President Juan Manuel Santos included leftist opposition politicians in a cabinet reshuffle. Most prominently, Jorge Eduardo Londoño of the Green Alliance becomes justice minister, while Clara Lopez of the Democratic Pole takes the labor post. The trade post goes to Maria Claudia Lacouture of the right-wing Party of the U—vehicle of ex-president Álvaro Uribe, a harsh critic of Santos. (Colombia Reports, April 26)

Opponents of the peace dialogue have expressed outrage over the participation of Hernán Darío Velásquez AKA "El Paisa"—known as one of the most feared FARC commanders. Until he joined peace talks with the government in Havana this month, he carried a $440,000 bounty on his head. Commander of the FARC's elite Teofilo Forero Mobile Column, accused of hundreds of crimes and atrocities, El Paisa had for decades been the target of a government manhunt. (Colombia Reports, April 26)

In another accounting for past atrocities, the government this week formally apologized for the Trujillo Massacre in Valle del Cauca department, in which some 300 local residents were killed between 1988 and 1991, at the hands of government forces and paramilitaries. Outgoing Justice Minister Yesid Reyes visited the village April 25 to ask forgiveness of survivors. (El Tiempo, April 25)

Prosecutions continue in the military's "false positive" killings, in which thousands of civilians were extrajudicially executed and their deaths reported as guerillas killed in battle. Colombia's Supreme Court of Justice on April 24 confirmed the 36-year sentence of former army lieutenant Luis Ramón Osorio Roa for his responsibility in three "false positive" killings in Putumayo department in 2004. (El Espectador, April 24)

And in a signal that Pentagon cooperation with Colombia's armed forces will continue despite the peace moves, Southern Command chief Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, visited the country this week, touring military installations in Cali and Cauca region.  (El Tiempo, April 20)