In the early hours of Sunday March 21, residents of La Victoria, a Venezuelan municipality in the state of Apure, located on the border with the Colombian department of Arauca, began reporting explosions on social media, gunfire and the presence of helicopters in the surface.
After hours of fighting, the Minister of Defense announced on his Twitter account that the Bolivarian National Armed Forces of Venezuela (FANB) were acting in defense of the nation.
During the first days of the clashes, information was limited. Days later, the Bolivarian regime’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, said it was an attack on the country’s sovereignty by irregular armed groups protected by the Colombian government.
And finally, the attackers were identified as Colombian terrorist groups. However, from the early hours, it was assumed that it was a clash between state forces and a splinter group of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).
The truth is that in this border area there are different armed and organized criminal groups fighting over territory and control of drug trafficking. Different FARC splinter groups have been on Venezuelan territory for some time with the regime’s approval.
In this context, the clashes are said to be the result of differences between the local agreements between the Tenth Front and members of the Venezuelan army in the region and the agreements between the Maduro regime and the Second Marquetalia, the FARC dissident group led by Ivan Marquez.
Members of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces and the dreaded Special Action Forces are also participating in this struggle to control drug trafficking.
The 2,200-kilometer border between the two countries is used to conflict, but the border region shared by Arauca, Colombia, and Apure, Venezuela, does not generally make the headlines. For this reason, the recent conflict, marked by secrecy and contradictory information disseminated by the Venezuelan regime and the scale of the humanitarian consequences, is therefore particularly worrying.
Arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, destruction of houses and fear of state forces caused, in the early days, the displacement of more than 3,000 refugees to Arauquita, across the border.
And while the fighting has subsided, the latest report from the Inter-Agency Panel on Mixed Migration Groups indicates that refugees continue to arrive. To date, more than 5,000 people have been displaced, including minors and pregnant women.
Despite the efforts of the Colombian government and in particular the Colombian border administration, as well as several partners of international agencies to help this population and ensure their safe return, the regime’s attacks have not stopped.
From Venezuela, the mayor of La Victoria accuses the Colombian government of preventing Venezuelans from returning. This crossroads takes place in the midst of the pandemic crisis in which some shelters are establishing epidemiological barriers to contain outbreaks of contagion.
In this context, the Venezuelan regime directly designates Iván Duque as responsible for the conflict with the support of the US government and has threatened to bring Colombia to international organizations for the alleged aggression. However, apart from the arguments presented by the Maduro regime, these do not justify the violation of human rights.
Responsibility for the extrajudicial killings of over 18,000 civilians who have identified themselves as members of armed groups or criminal gangs in urban areas over the past seven years; violation of personal integrity; the absence of guarantees of humanitarian assistance; safe return; and the forced displacement of more than 5,000 people at the Apure-Arauca border is the exclusive responsibility of the Venezuelan state.
The regime argues that it has no obligation to respond to the inter-American system, given its alleged departure from the OAS. However, in addition to its status within the organization, the protection of human rights is not subject to recognition in a treaty. And while it is clear that the ratification of instruments does not guarantee the effective protection of human rights, they engender international responsibility, whatever the power.
The obligation to protect the population also stems from the Universal System for the Protection of Human Rights and what is enshrined in its instruments, which have been signed and ratified by Venezuela. Especially those established in what is called the International Bill of Human Rights.
Finally, it should not be forgotten that the international community also has a shared responsibility to help Colombia on the institutional and economic levels to face the migratory crisis and henceforth to the care of refugees in the municipality of Arauquita.
The toughening of migration policies in some countries in the region, far from offering solutions, is increasing Colombia’s burden in the face of a crisis that unfortunately seems far from over. Clashes in the Apure-Arauca border region require coordinated attention from all neighboring countries.
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