At Least 23 dead in Clashes Between Armed Rebel Groups in Colombia

Colombia’s Defence Minister Diego Molano said on Monday that at least 23 people died during the violent confrontations between Colombian rebel groups in the eastern state of Arauca, near its border with Venezuela. 

The army said both the National Liberation Army or ELN guerrilla group and former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were fighting for dominance over Arauca’s drug trade.

Researcher Adam Isaacson said Arauca was a stronghold of the ELN in 2019 and that a non-aggression truce between the ELN and FARC dissidents was in place.

“That non-aggression agreement is clearly over as of this past weekend,” Isaacson said, adding that the fight could have broken out over control of Arauca, which is a hugely strategic department that shares a long, uncontrolled border with Venezuela.

“Everything from drugs, to stolen cattle, to kidnapped people crosses. Armed groups, tax everything, even beer, and food. Also, there’s a lot of oil in Arauca, which means there’s a lot of extractive businesses that armed groups could extort,” Isaacson added.

Juan Carlos Villate, human rights officer in Tame, said he received reports that members of armed groups dragged civilians out of their homes then executed them on Sunday. 

Villate added he also received reports that 50 people went missing and 27 killed over the weekend.

The Colombian government has long accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of harboring FARC dissidents and ELN fighters in Venezuela’s border area – an accusation Caracas continually denies.

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