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Update No.1 on ICRC activities in Colombia

17-06-1997 Operational Update

 Liberation of 70 soldiers held by FARC  

On 15 June the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla movement freed the 60 government soldiers it had held since August 1996 and the 10 marine soldiers captured in January 1997. The release of the soldiers was carried out under the terms of the agreement concluded on 3 June between the FARC and government representatives, following a long negotiation process in which the ICRC and the National Conciliation Commission participated. On 14 June teams comprising ICRC delegates and representatives of the National Conciliation Commission were dispatched to various locations in the Caqueta region to transfer the soldiers to a single meeting point where they were examined by a joint ICRC/Colombian Red Cross medical team. They were then released to the ICRC and subsequently handed over to the military authorities in Larandia. Altogether the operation involved eight helicopters, 18 boats, two lorries, four busses and eight ICRC/Colombian Red Cross vehicles. Within the framework of the release operation the ICRC set up two temporary offices in Cartagena del Chaira and San Vicente del Caguan in the temporarily demilitarized zone. The offices are staffed by six ICRC delegates and supported by a team from the Colombian Red Cross.

 ICRC activities in Colombia  

 Protection  

The ICRC has recently increased its expatriate presence in the conflict zones and plays a significant role in encouraging the armed forces, the paramilitary and the guerrilla groups to respect international humanitarian law, particularly in terms of distinguishing between civilians and combatants in their operations.

The ICRC also regularly visits places of detention throughout Colombia in order to register and follow up the cases of security detainees. During the visits the ICRC provides the detainees with clothing, toiletries, cleaning material and recreational items and funds the medical treatment of those whose condition is considered serious by medical delegates. Transport costs of families wishing to visit relatives in detention are also met and former detainees are assisted in returning home.

 Dissemination  

Although there is genuine knowledge of international humanitarian law in Colombia, serious breaches of some rules occur, for example hostage-taking and summary executions. Thanks to direct contact between the ICRC and the armed forces and opposition and paramilitary groups reports on such breaches of humanitarian law are regularly submitted to the protagonists in the conflict. Regular courses and seminars in humanitarian law for the security forces are conducted by the ICRC and Colombian Red Cross, together with a specialist delegate from the Canadian Red Cross. The ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross are also continuing to back government efforts to incorporate humanitarian law into national legislation and studies are currently being carried out on the development of new legislation on the rights of those displaced by conflict.

 Relief assistance to those affected by the conflict  

Owing to an increase in the level of violence throughout the country, over 650,000 civilians have been displaced as a result of the conflict between the armed forces and the paramil itary and guerrilla groups. Recent fighting in the Rio Negro and Choco region prompted thousands of people to flee the area with the result that some 4,000 people are now camped in and around Pavarandó in the north of the country. Food and medical materials are being supplied through the Colombian Red Cross.

As part of the special cooperation programme with the Colombian Red Cross and the Spanish Red Cross, the ICRC set up 13 mobile health brigades to provide basic medical care in this and other conflict areas in the Urabá region.

 ICRC operational set-up in Colombia  

The main ICRC delegation based in Bogotá supervises the work of 45 expatriate and over 100 local employees, working in six sub-delegations and five permanent offices throughout the country.