Page last updated at 00:04 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 01:04 UK

Call to help Colombia's displaced

Displaced children in LA Reliquia, Villavicencio, Meta Department
Amnesty wants government action to stop forced displacement

Amnesty International has denounced what it says is a dramatic rise in the number of people being displaced by Colombia's armed conflict.

The human rights group notes that 380,000 people were forced to flee in 2008, a rise of nearly 25% on 2007.

Communities in areas of economic, military or strategic importance are being targeted in particular, it says.

Amnesty says Colombia has one of the world's biggest displaced populations, put at between three and four million.

The latest report by Amnesty says that as many as 380,000 people were forced to leave their homes last year to escape violence arising from the long-running conflict between guerrillas, paramilitary groups and the armed forces.

Their figures are based on information from a local human rights group, the Centre for Human Rights and the Displaced (Codhes), which reported in April that there had been a 25% rise in the number of internally displaced.

The dire humanitarian situation in Colombia is one of today's most hidden tragedies
Marcelo Pollack
Amnesty International

At the time, the government department dedicated to helping the displaced, Accion Social, said there had been an increase but also that some people were falsely claiming to have been forced from their homes in order to qualify from compensation.

According to government figures, 2.9 million people were displaced between 1997 and 2008.

Amnesty says many people have been deliberately targeted by guerrilla groups, paramilitaries, and the security forces as part of strategies designed to remove whole communities from areas of military, strategic or economic importance.

Shelter for internally displaced people, Colombia
There an estimated three to four million displaced people

The great majority of those affected are from one of three groups - indigenous people, Afro-descendents and campesinos - or farmworkers.

Many of them live in areas which are potentially economically profitable, such as land that could be used for mineral and oil exploration or agro-industrial developments.

Amnesty International's Americas Deputy Director Marcelo Pollack said: "The dire humanitarian situation in Colombia is one of today's most hidden tragedies, and belies claims by the Colombian government that the country has overcome its troubled past.

"Until the authorities in Colombia acknowledge the very real effects of the conflict, the human rights of millions of people have little chance of being protected."

Amnesty said much of the wealth accumulated by the paramilitaries and their political and business supporters was based on the misappropriation of land through violence or the threat of violence.

Some estimate that between four and six million hectares (10-15 million acres) of land have been stolen.

The human rights group is urging the Colombian authorities to take action stop forced displacement, improve the protection of civilians and to identify and return all stolen land and other assets to their rightful owners or their families.

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