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Colombian peasants return from Ecuador after fleeing coca-crop tensions

Colombian peasants return from Ecuador after fleeing coca-crop tensions

Hundreds of Colombian peasants returned home from Ecuador on Thursday after the government promised to protect them from leftist rebels trying to sabotage a coca eradication campaign.
Some 1,600 Colombians from two southern villages fled to Ecuador last week, afraid of being caught in the crossfire between government coca eradication efforts and armed rebels who depend on coca _ and the end product, cocaine _ to finance their insurgency.
A Colombian government commission reached an agreement Wednesday with the refugees gathered in shelters in the town of San Lorenzo, 12 kilometers (eight miles) from the Colombian border, to return home in exchange for security guarantees.
The peasants, mostly women and children, could be seen streaming across the border Thursday in buses provided by the Ecuadorean government.
At least 25 people fearing their homes would be engulfed by violence remained behind and intend to seek asylum in Ecuador, said Javier Orellana, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency in Quito.
Authorities in Colombia are on alert for possible reprisals by leftist rebels.
"It's clear the dangers don't end with their return," said Gustavo Valdivieso, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Bogota. "The situation in the southern part of the country is delicate and there's a strong pressure on civilians by armed groups."
Colombia's president says the farmers were pressured into fleeing by the country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
President Alvaro Uribe over the weekend accused the FARC of trying to provoke a "international scandal" by pressuring peasants to cross the border.
"The FARC isn't interested in helping these peasants," said Uribe at a town hall meeting in Narino, the war-ravaged state along Colombia's southern border with Ecuador. "They're interested in making them slaves to coca so they can buy guns, dynamite and land mines to mutilate the motherland's soldiers."
Spillover from Colombia's half-century-old civil conflict has strained relations with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who opposes the Uribe government's aerial eradication strategy on the border and past incursions by counterinsurgent forces.
Carlos Vasco, director of Ecuador's civil defense, complained it was costing his government US$60,000 (euro44,000) a day to handle the latest influx of Colombian refugees in San Lorenzo.
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Associated Press Writer Joshua Goodman contributed to this report from Bogota, Colombia.


Updated : 2021-05-10 15:53 GMT+08:00