Some 3,000 Venezuelans have fled across the border into Colombian territory to escape an outbreak of fighting between the military and an unnamed armed faction. The fighting broke out March 21 in the sprawling rural municipality of Paez, in Venezuela’s western Apure state, along the Colombian border. Colombian authorities in the border town of Arauquita, Arauca department, have hurriedly erected makeshift shelters for the refugees. Venezuelan Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino López said that in an operation dubbed Bolivarian Shield, troops have arrested 32 people, destroyed six camps, and seized weapons. There have also been reports of two Venezuelan soldiers killed in the fighting.
Padrino did not name the armed group targeted in the operation, only identifying a supposed commander by his nom de guerre “Nando.” But regional media reports indicate the targeted group is one of the “dissident” factions of the Colombian FARC rebels that have remained in arms despite a peace accord. Bogotá accuses Venezuela of providing shelter to both dissident FARC groups and the ELN guerillas; the principal dissident FARC leaders Jesús Santrich and Iván Márquez are both allegedly living in Venezuela under protection of the Nicolás Maduro regime. It is hypothesized that the group targeted in Bolivarian Shield is a dissident faction refusing to accept the leadership favored by Caracas. (AP, El Tiempo, El Tiempo, Bogotá, RCN, Colombia, El Universo, Guayaquil, InfoBae, Argentina, Caracas Chronicles, Venezuela)
The Bogotá government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced last month that Colombia would provide the 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans within the country with a new form of legal status, providing them with essential basic security while living in Colombia as refugees. The new initiative offers 10-year temporary status to displaced Venezuelans living in Colombia, a population that makes up nearly 40% of the estimated 4.6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean. (Jurist)
Colombia continues to face its own internal displacement crisis. Colombia’s ombudsman office, the Defensoria del Pueblo, reported March 8 that more than 11,000 individuals have been displaced by fighting between armed groups in the country so far in 2021. (Jurist)
Map: Sofía Jaimes Barreto via Caracas Chronicles