A mass shooting was perpetrated in the El Tarra municipality of the restive Catatumbo region (Norte de Santander department) on Monday, July 30. Gunmen reportedly entered a commercial establishment in the town of Villa Esperanza around 15:00 (local time), opening fire and killing at least eight people and wounding three others. Military and police agents have since been deployed to the area to investigate. The shooting is likely linked to an ongoing turf war between the EPL (Ejército Popular de Liberación; a.k.a. Los Pelusos) and the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional).
The ELN guerrilla group and the EPL crime organization have been engaged in a turf war since mid-March 2018 over Catatumbo and its lucrative coca-growing lands, which were recently vacated by the now-demobilized FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). Numerous civilian casualties have been reported and some 16,000 have fled the area in recent months. 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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