No Man's Land

Colombia's Northeastern State of Arauca is the main focus of rebel activity

Despite Government's efforts to resume control in Arauca, the area has been the scenario of successful incursions of Colombia's main rebel groups. Last week, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, killed six soldiers and a civilian with a car bomb and the National Liberation Army, ELN, were held responsible for the kidnapping of two foreign journalists.

Notwithstanding, Colombia's Interior Minister, Fernando Londono, insists that the Government was still in control of the region. There, over 70 US Special Forces Officials are training the Colombian Army to protect oil wells and pipelines from rebel attacks. Cano Limon oil wells and pipelines have been blown up over 700 times.

Besides the oil production, the Department of Arauca is very important due to the cultivation of coca crops - some 8.000 hectares, according to official estimations - and because of its long frontier with Venezuela. All the mayors of the Department are under threat by the rebel groups and many have been killed, recently.

Therefore, the Government has increased military presence in the area, but with little success as attacks go further. The ELN and the FARC have a strong presence, but their superiority has been reduced since 2001, when paramilitary squads started challenging them.

The 10th and 45th Fronts of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Domingo Laнn Front and ABC Column of the National Liberation Army (ELN), and counter-insurgent paramilitary groups, namely the Victors of Arauca Column and a supposed Capital Column in the municipality of Arauca. Since 22 September 2002, three of the region's municipalities (Arauca, Arauquita and Saravena) form part of a rehabilitation and consolidation zone decreed by the government, where the military presence has been increased.

The Human Rights group "Reporters without Borders" conducted a research in the area and concluded that local authorities systematically violate press freedom. According to the investigation, currently exist journalist on black list and even their lives are not guaranteed. "Paramilitaries killed circulated several statements, in which they declared journalists and the news media in general to be a military target", reads the report.

However, there are not only threats. Efrain Varela, a local journalist and Human Rights activist, was shot in Arauca, presumably by paramilitaries. Last week, rebel forces kidnaped two journalists from Los Angeles Times and no further information has been provided about their fate.

The 40 years Colombia's civil war has turned what used to be rich area into a battlefield. The 350 thousand inhabitants of Arauca are at risk as they live in o man's land.

Hernan Etchaleco PRAVDA.RU Argentina

Map source: Reporters sans frontiers.

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