On Monday, April 16, the governor of Norte de Santander declared a state of emergency in the department's Catatumbo region amid an escalation of deadly violence between fighters from the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) and the EPL (Ejército Popular de Liberación) in recent weeks. The conflict has escalated considerably since mid-March. Some 1000 families have been displaced by the fighting and around 4000 children have been unable to attend school. Some schools, businesses, and hospitals have reportedly been closed due to the unrest. Transportation to and within the region has been affected, with the EPL forcing transportation companies (and stores) to close, and with others suspending services by choice due to the violence.
Additional soldiers have been deployed to the region to address the mounting insecurity; despite such deployment, continuing clashes between the ELN and EPL are expected in the Catatumbo region in the coming weeks.
The violence between the ELN and EPL is primarily attributed to a contest between the groups for control of coca-growing lands in the region, which were vacated by the now-demobilized FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) guerrilla group following a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2016. Government forces have struggled to provide security in many such rural areas of the country formerly controlled by the FARC rebels.
The Colombian government declared a humanitarian emergency for the region on April 5.
Catatumbo is located in the northeast of Norte de Santander along the Venezuelan border and comprises the following 11 municipalities: Ábrego, Convención, El Carmen, El Tarra, Hacarí, La Playa, Ocaña, San Calixto, Sardinata, Teorama, and Tibú.
Individuals in Norte de Santander 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.