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Colombia: Flying out to safety

20-05-1998 News Release 98/20

In an attack launched by armed elements on the village of Puerto Elvira, in Colombia's southern department of Meta on 4 May, some 20 people were killed and a number of shops and buildings destroyed or burnt down.

The next day a joint ICRC/Colombian Red Cross team flew to Puerto Elvira on a DC-3 chartered by the ICRC. Several bodies, together with accompanying family members, were immediately taken to the town of Villavicencio. The operation was carried out by air because this is the only safe way in and out of the area concerned.

On 7 May the ICRC organized five more flights to bring supplies to the inhabitants and evacuate those who, fearing for their safety, had expressed the wish to leave Puerto Elvira. On arrival in Villavicencio the evacuees were assisted by the Colombian Red Cross and the Pastoral social , which provided them with emergency aid and temporary housing.

The operation continued until early last week, by which time a total of 450 people had been evacuated. Several hundred others have fled by road or by boat, so that at present no more than a fifth of the original population of 2,500 still remain in Puerto Elvira.