Columbians cut off from world face new fears

 The collapse of the fragile peace process in Columbia has plunged parts of the country into chaos and fear, CAFOD said this week. Since 20 February, when Columban President Andres Pastrana ordered his forces to start retaking the 42,000 sq km area he had handed over to the FARC guerrillas, more than 200 bombing raids have been carried out. FARC counter-attacks have cut roads and blown up power lines. Without road or river communications, fuel for generators is in short supply. Without power, water supplies are paralysed. There are no telephone links. There is no refrigeration while average temperatures are 30 deg C. Worst of all, paramilitaries are reported to have entered the area to hunt down 'guerrilla sympathisers'. The paramilitaries, responsible for 80% of human rights violations in Columbia, single out community leaders, human rights defenders and development workers, who in their view, are subversive. Because of military control, little information about conditions in the region is reaching the media. Because of the threat of political violence, residents who can be contacted are careful about what they say. It is reported that a Protestant pastor who left the zone and said that civilians were dying because the military were preventing humanitarian aid from getting through, was murdered on his return, presumably by paramilitaries. Various sources contacted by CAFOD in the last week reported that the FARC were still active near San Vicente del Caguan, scene of the now-abandoned negotiations. The town of Cartegena del Chaira, south of San Vicente, is the scene of heavy fighting, and cut off from the rest of the region. CAFOD partners, who asked not to be identified, appealed to the international community for humanitarian assistance and international human rights monitors. At present, the only international agency working in the area is the Red Cross.

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