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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 22:01 GMT
More Colombians flee violence
FARC guerrillas control vast areas of the country
More than 300,000 Colombians have been displaced this year due to the country's escalating civil conflict - the worst figures in over 15 years.

And the number is increasing as illegal armies of the left and right consolidate control of the half of the country they dominate and cleanse their areas of those they believe support the other side.

Farc guerrilla
Leftist and rightist groups have committed massacres
The figures, from Colombian research group Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CDHES), came as General Fernando Tapias, chief of Colombia's armed forces, urged the government to declare a state of emergency to fight increased rebel and paramilitary power nationwide.

According to CHRD, those most guilty of displacement are the right-wing paramilitary death squads which terrorise the population into not supporting their guerrilla adversaries and drive away any left-wing sympathisers.

This they do by massacring suspected leftists, dragging them from their homes and executing them in the streets as a warning to the rest of the community.

I think the president needs issue emergency legislation now ... it is urgent because the problems are out of control."

General Fernando Tapias
So far this year, an estimated 1,500 civilians have been killed in attacks attributed mainly to Colombia's paramilitaries.

Hundreds of others have been kidnapped for ransom as a means of financing their insurgency.

Left-wing guerrillas are now responding in kind, ensuring that Colombia has an average of one massacre a day.

Refugees flood cities

But what is not included in the latest report is the displacement out of the country - what is known as "the exodus" - as upper and middle class Colombians terrorised by kidnapping and crime flee the country at a rate of 1,000 a day.

Andres Pastrana: Under pressure for state of emergency
Those who are internally displaced are mostly small farmers and agricultural labourers; they are flooding to the cities, living in squalid slums.

There are no jobs for them with unemployment at more than 20%, and few hand-outs from an almost bankrupt state struggling with the worst recession in more than 70 years.

General Tapias said in an interview published in the daily El Tiempo newspaper: "I think the president (Andres Pastrana) needs to tend to the internal commotion in the country and issue emergency legislation now.

"We have never asked as vehemently as we do now, but it is urgent because the problems are out of control."

Mary Robinson: Criticised FARC for "deplorable" kidnappings
Earlier this month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, accused the Colombian Government of not doing enough to halt violence by the country's right-wing paramilitary groups.

Speaking after a meeting with Mr Pastrana in Bogota, Mrs Robinson said more needed to be done to bring the paramilitaries to justice.

She also sharply criticised the country's largest left-wing rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), for what she described as their deplorable campaign of kidnapping.

Mr Pastrana must decide by Thursday whether to continue to demilitarise the 42,000 sq km zone that was in effect handed over to FARC control in November 1998 to jump-start peace talks.

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See also:

16 Nov 00 | Americas
Colombia's peace laboratory
31 Aug 00 | Americas
US commits to Colombia
29 Nov 99 | Americas
Journalists killed in Colombia
03 Dec 00 | Americas
Colombia anti-drugs victory
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