Colombia: 4,000 peasants displaced by armed groups return amid fear and need | International

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Indigenous Embera people displaced in Ituango line up for humanitarian aid at a shelter in the population.DANIEL ALVARADO / AFP

In Ituango, a town located in the western mountain range of Colombia, the 4,099 peasants displaced by armed groups are once again between a rock and a hard place. After a week of fleeing and living poorly in shelters in the urban area of ​​the municipality, the Army has offered them accompaniment to return to their villages, but they fear that upon arrival they will face more intimidation from those who forced them to run away. "People are not exactly calm, but they want to be in their houses, there they have their animals, their things, their crops," says the community leader Esteban Úsuga by phone.

On Tuesday, after several requests to the Government of Iván Duque, the Minister of the Interior, Daniel Palacios, was in the municipality. “We observe some of the shelters where the victims of this displacement are concentrated; There are 1,687 families from the different villages that have moved to the urban area, totaling about 4,099 people, of which 900 are children, ”said Minister Palacios.

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From there, he announced that they would activate the "safe return plan" that begins this Friday and assured that they have identified those responsible for the displacement. Ituango is a territory in dispute by members of the dissidents of the 18th front of the FARC that did not join the peace process and the paramilitary group Clan del Golfo.

According to Palacios, they have identified ‘alias Ramiro’, from the first group and ‘Michín’ and ‘Camilo’, from the Clan del Golfo, as those responsible for the displacement. The Antioquia government had offered 50 million pesos ($ 13,000) for any information on them, but in a frightened population, many doubt that the peasants will provide data.

Ituango's is the largest mass displacement in Antioquia so far in 2021, according to the United Nations Office for Human Rights. But it is not the first in this population. Many of the peasants who fled a week ago had already been displaced in January this year. At that moment, they decided to return to their homes, although with fear of reprisals.

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"We have arranged for 250 Army men to reach the villages of Ituango and guarantee the return of the population in conditions of dignity and security," said Defense Minister Diego Molano. Two other platoons will be in charge of opening the tracks destroyed by the winter wave.

While they wait to start the return this Friday, the peasants continue in shelters and schools in the urban area of ​​the municipality, and they have already begun to receive humanitarian aid and food that had been in short supply throughout the week.

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