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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 05:34 GMT 06:34 UK
Colombian oil region in crisis
Arauca Department borders Venezuela
The oil pipeline runs through northeastern Colombia
Arauca Department in the northeast of Colombia was once an affluent oil-producing region. But last week, guerrillas bombed the 775km (485 mile) long oil pipeline operated by US-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation. This year alone there have been more than 100 attacks.

The Bogota daily El Tiempo says rebel attacks on the pipeline have cost the country $340m in lost revenue.

The guerrillas are fighting against what they perceive to be foreign dominance of the Colombian oil industry. But no-one has been hit harder than the population of Arauca.

A guerrilla keeps watch
Two rebel groups are fighting for control of the oil fields

Today the region is facing the worst financial crisis in its history. Governor Hector Federico Gallardo told Caracol radio that all investment in infrastructure and social programmes had been suspended.

One of two operating theatres in the main hospital, San Vicente, is about to close. Nearly 1,000 teachers paid by the Arauca Governor's Office are owed two months' back pay. One hundred doctors have been waiting three months for their wages.

Shops have suffered too. Thousands are on the verge of closing down as a result of a guerrilla ban on the sale of beer, soft drinks and bottled water.

Distribution stopped in May, because the suppliers - including Coca-Cola - refused to pay the rebels protection money. After oil royalties, tax on beer consumption is the region's main source of revenue.

Paralysed

Last week, the governor appealed for help. "It has been 15 years since the government invested one single peso in social development, because it left everything to the royalties", he said.

Colombian troops
More troops are needed to guarantee security in the region
"There has been no oil production, and the department has been paralysed for five months, besieged by a war in which civilians continue to suffer."

A special security council meeting was recently held to resolve the crisis. A government commission led by Vice-President Gustavo Bell heard that if help was not forthcoming, 300,000 people faced the collapse of public services.

Oil companies are calling on the government to guarantee security in the region.

Still committed

In an interview in El Tiempo, the president of Occidental Petroleum in Colombia, Jose Guimer Dominguez, gave assurances the company was still committed to Colombia. "We have been there for the good times and we are not thinking about abandoning it in the bad times," he said.

But he added that rebel attacks on the pipeline had led to the suspension of more than 500 workers' contracts pending guarantees for continuous production. For the time being, the company would make no further investments in other Colombian oil projects.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

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Country profile: Colombia
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