A violent turf war being fought between the ELN guerrilla group (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) and the EPL crime organization (Ejército Popular de Liberación; a.k.a. Los Pelusos) over the Catatumbo region (Norte de Santander department) has entered its seventh month. The area had been vacated by the now-demobilized FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), creating a power vacuum in the lucrative coca-growing lands of the region, which produce an estimated 70 tons of coca annually.
Dozens of civilian casualties have been reported and more than 16,000 residents have fled the area since the EPL “declared war” on the ELN on March 10. March. The Norte de Santander government declared a humanitarian state of emergency for Catatumbo in April. This violence has had a major impact on daily life in the region, affecting the freedom of movement and the ability of schools to operate. This is in part due to fears of anti-personnel landmines that have been planted by both sides. Further violence, including armed clashes between the EPL and the ELN - as well as between the EPL or ELN and security forces - are to be expected in the Catatumbo region until further notice.
Catatumbo is located in the northeast of Norte de Santander and comprises the following 11 municipalities: Ábrego, Convención, El Carmen, El Tarra, Hacarí, La Playa, Ocaña, San Calixto, Sardinata, Teorama, and Tibú.
Individuals in Colombia are advised to keep abreast of the situation and continue to postpone nonessential travel to the Catatumbo region until further notice. On a more general note, due to the presence of a number of armed groups, some Western governments advise against travel to various parts of the country, including much of Norte de Santander department and other areas along the Venezuelan border.
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