HRW: Civilians along Venezuela-Colombia border abused by armed groups | News | DW | 23.01.2020
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HRW: Civilians along Venezuela-Colombia border abused by armed groups

Armed groups along the Venezuela-Colombia border subject civilians to killings, forced labor and extortion, asserts Human Rights Watch. The NGO accuses Venezuelan forces of colluding with Colombian militias.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the European Union, the USA, Canada and Latin American countries Wednesday to impose sanctions on "complicit" Venezuelan officials and that Colombia apply its justice system in areas where groups operate lawlessly.

People in Colombia's eastern province of Arauca and Venezuela's neighboring state of Apure faced violence exercised with "near-to-absolute impunity on both sides of the border," said Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco in the HRW report.

Read more: Venezuela reopens border after four-month blockade (June, 2019)

"Residents of Arauca and Apure live in fear, as armed groups recruit their children and impose their own rules, threaten residents, and punish those who disobey," stated HRW.

'Freer to operate' on Venezuelan side

It said it had credible allegations that groups were "freer to operate" in Venezuela, where they had built camps for kidnapped force laborers.

Arauca - Grenze zwischen Kolumbien und Venezuela - Symbolbild

Arauca river — scene from the Venezuelan-Colombian border

The border zone has become a conduit in recent years for migrants fleeing Venezuela's political and economic crisis, and has a reputation for trafficking in contraband such as fuel and narcotics.

Last year, more than 160 people were killed in Arauca, with at least 16 bodies found with paper scraps attached, branding them as "informants," "thieves" and "drug dealers," said HRW, adding there was little to no Colombian state [government] presence.

Various groups identified

Identified in the HRW report were Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN), dissidents from FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which in 2016 signed a Colombian peace deal and largely demobilized, and Venezuela's Patriotic Forces of National Liberation (FPLN).

In the past, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has denied accusations that armed Colombian groups were tolerated on his country's side of the border.

Kidnapped and taken into Venezuela

HRW cited several Colombians, who said they had been kidnapped by armed groups and taken across a river into Venezuela.

And, in Arauca, where soldiers were assigned to protecting oil infrastructure, rebels imposed curfews, debt repayments, and forbade motorcycle riders from wearing helmets, in order to make them easily identifiable, it said.

ipj/se (AP, dpa)

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