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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 22:14 GMT 23:14 UK
War uproots more Colombians
A sugar cane worker in Colombia
Rural workers forced off the land struggle to find work in the cities

Colombia's long-running civil conflict is forcing more people from their homes than ever, according to a local human rights group.

Every day more than 1,100 people are uprooted by the fighting between the state, guerrillas and paramilitaries, the group said in a report published on Tuesday.

On the same day, Colombia's reputation as the most dangerous country for reporters was further entrenched with the murders of two journalists within 24 hours.

Jaime Rengifo, shot dead in the northern town of Maicao, was the 116th journalist to die in Colombia since 1989, according to the Inter-American Press Association.

Late on Monday night, another reporter, Guillermo Bravo Vega, was killed in Neiva, the capital of Huila department.

The motives for the murders are unclear but journalists face frequent death threats from Colombia's illegal groups who are not only fighting each other but often involved in illegal activities such as drug-trafficking.

Deliberate displacement

While journalists are individual victims of the conflict, the warring factions will often threaten entire communities they perceive being friendly to the other side.

The Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (Codhes) says in its latest report that 2002 was the worst year on record, with the number of people displaced from their homes up 20%.

Last year, 410,000 people were forced to flee, according to Codhes, which also estimates that since 1985 almost three million Colombians have been driven from their homes.

Colombian soldiers
Soldiers fight armed gangs and civilians are caught in the middle

"This is the other war behind the war," the group's report says.

"Today displacement is no longer a side-effect of the armed conflict. It is a central strategy pursued by the opposing groups, and by those who promote and profit from confrontation."

And while the majority of those fleeing remain within Colombia, a growing number seeking refuge in neighbouring countries - nearly 22,000 last year.

There has been an exodus of educated Colombians out of the country, but the vast majority of the displaced are peasants with little education.

They flee from rural areas to the slums of big cities but once there find no jobs and little government help, says the BBC's Jeremy McDermott.

Among the worst affected are indigenous groups and the African-Colombian population - many the descendants of slaves.

Black Colombians accounted for around 33% of people expelled from their land, the Codhes report said.

President Alvaro Uribe came to power last year promising to tackle the armed groups and restore law and order.

But Codhes blames such policies for worsening the situation, with government offensives against the rebels resulting in yet more violence which rebounds on the civilian population.

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