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Venezuelan forces carry out joint operations with the ELN guerrillas, according to HRW | International

Venezuelans cross the Arauca River, the natural border between Venezuela and Colombia, to take refuge in Arauquita, in March 2021.
Venezuelans cross the Arauca River, the natural border between Venezuela and Colombia, to take refuge in Arauquita, in March 2021.FERNANDO VERGARA (AP)

In the midst of the clashes that have intensified this year between the FARC dissidents that broke away from the peace agreement and the ELN guerrillas on both sides of the border between Colombia and Venezuela, the Venezuelan security forces have been accomplices of the ELN , to the point of carrying out “joint operations”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday. After conducting more than a hundred interviews, including people who fled the Venezuelan state of Apure, and visiting the Colombian departments of Arauca and Vichada, the organization points out that the UN independent international mission on Venezuela, created to investigate serious human rights violations, it must assess the responsibility of the Venezuelan security forces in the abuses committed by armed groups in Apure, as well as identify the individual responsibility of high-level officials.

From the first day of this 2022, fierce clashes for control of the territory and illicit activities began in both Apure and Arauca between the Joint Command of the East, a kind of coalition between dissidents of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the National Liberation Army. Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes: at least 3,860 have been internally displaced in Arauca and more than 3,300 have crossed the border from Venezuela.

Combatants on both sides have committed multiple abuses, including dozens of murders, as well as forced recruitment, including of children, and forced displacement, HRW has detailed in its report on the border area. According to numerous witnesses, “members of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) and the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) have participated in joint operations with ELN guerrillas,” the report denounces. It also recalls that members of the Venezuelan security forces have been implicated in systematic human rights violations, which has led the International Criminal Court to open an investigation for alleged crimes against humanity.

In Colombia, efforts to assist displaced people in Arauca and Vichada have been insufficient. Hundreds of them do not have access to food, drinking water and health services, especially in Vichada, with increasing risks of forced recruitment, warns HRW, which recommends that the Colombian authorities urgently assess the humanitarian needs of the people who fled Apure and implement a response plan to address them.

Arauca, a department historically hit by the armed conflict, has become a war zone for the umpteenth time in 2022, with more than a hundred homicides in January and February alone. So far this century, it had already experienced a bloody paramilitary onslaught and a fierce confrontation between the extinct FARC and the ELN. A third of its 300,000 inhabitants were already registered victims before this new cycle of violence.

On the other side of the border, the Chavista government in Caracas has tolerated the presence of the insurgents for years, but a year ago, for reasons that have not been fully clarified, it launched a bloody offensive against the dissidents, which it included bombings, arbitrary arrests and torture. Human Rights Watch He had already denounced at the time that this offensive in Apure was plagued by atrocities. The NGO has documented in previous reports the panorama of murders, torture, recruitment of minors, kidnappings and even forced labor that the armed groups have imposed in both Apure and Arauca.

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“Armed groups are committing brutal abuses against civilians on the border between Colombia and Venezuela, in some cases with the complicity of members of the Venezuelan security forces, and the response of the Colombian authorities has been inadequate and insufficient,” said Tamara. Taraciuk Broner, acting director for the Americas at HRW. “Colombian authorities must urgently redouble their efforts to protect the population and assist displaced persons, and the UN Fact-Finding Mission must investigate the responsibility of the Venezuelan security forces in the guerrilla abuses.”

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