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Colombia: Increased ICRC presence in the south

07-03-2002 News Release 02/10

Following the breakdown of negotiations between the government and the FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia / People's Army) on 20 February 2002, the ICRC has increased its presence in southern Colombia. ICRC teams, assisted by volunteers from the Colombian Red Cross, are currently surveying humanitarian needs in five major towns in the former " Zona de Despeje " (an area the size of Switzerland over which the government granted the FARC exclusive control). They stand ready to provide protection and assistance as needed.

ICRC delegates on the spot have also reminded all the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law, especially that to respect civilians and civilian property.

As relatively few people have fled their homes, there has so far been little demand for humanitarian aid. Nonetheless, assistance was provided for some 200 displaced persons in San Vicente del Caguán, the largest city in the former " Zona de Despeje " . The ICRC has also drawn up a contingency plan to cover needs should the situation deteriorate further.

In addition, the ICRC has distributed medicines to health centres in the " Zona de Despeje " zone so as to shore up their capacity to serve the population.

Apart from its work in the former " Zona de Despeje " , the ICRC, in cooperation with the Colombian Red Cross, is pursuing its efforts elsewhere in the country to meet the humanitarian needs generated by the upsurge in violence that began in early 2002. In January and February, the organization provided over 15,000 people with food and other emergency aid.