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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 01:47 GMT
Colombia's civil war: the human cost
Tanks in the streets of Bogota
Colombian troops patrol the streets of Bogota
By Claire Marshall in Bogota

On the streets of Bogota, two million people live in the slums.

As battered buses pass by on the potholed dust tracks, children play with stray dogs, and unemployed middle-aged men sit and watch the passers-by.

If there's no peace, what can we hope for?

Carlos, refugee worker
These are Colombia's displaced people, the strikingly-visible evidence of the chaos wreaked by this civil war.

If peace efforts fail, there are fears that thousands more could soon be driven from their homes across the Colombian countryside, to end up here.

"I think that soon, around 15,000 displaced people are going to arrive here," said Carlos, the head of an organisation which represents refugees from the civil war.

Gun culture

"It's extremely sad because many innocent people are going to die. If there's no peace, what can we hope for?" asked Carlos gloomily, when it looked like the peace talks were going to collapse.

Police frisk a group of men and check their identity cards. But there isn't any security at night. The shanty towns are lawless, with shootings and muggings a way of life.

The centre of Bogota
Two million people live in the slums around Bogota
The slums are a world away from the rolling green hills of the countryside, where most of the people living here came from.

Betty's shack is perched on a hillside overlooking the sprawl of the capital. Five years ago she was forced to flee for her life from her farm in the south.

A right-wing paramilitary group killed her husband, took her two sons, and raped her daughter. All she wants now is to know where her family is - at least if they're alive or not.

Residents were afraid that if the left-wing rebels would have vacated their safe haven in south, the way would have been open for the right-wing paramilitary groups to move in and carry out similar attacks against the civilians living there. The safer option was the slums of Bogota.

Some groups of women are trying to make the best of the situation in which they have been forced to live.

In a cramped room, dozens of desperately poor mothers come here to use an ancient sewing machine. The clothes they make and sell bring in a few vital pesos.

See also:

13 Jan 02 | Media reports
FARC communique: 'Warmongers win'
12 Jan 02 | Media reports
Peace pessimism in Colombian press
14 Jan 02 | Americas
Colombia waits as rebels move out
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