Un official to highlight plight of blockaded areas in talks with President

A senior official of the United Nations refugee agency is set to meet today with President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia for talks on the humanitarian situation in the country, after travelling to the poor and isolated western region over the weekend for a first-hand look at affected communities.

Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane, on the first leg of a weeklong mission to Colombia and Ecuador, plans to share his impressions and messages received from those communities with the President and other government officials in his talks today, according to a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"He is also expected to insist that internal displacement is a violation of an individual's fundamental rights, and affirmative action by the State is required to re-establish the exercise of those rights," spokesman Ron Redmond said at a press briefing in Geneva.

Over the weekend Mr. Morjane visited Chocó province in western Colombia, where he saw the devastating impact of internal displacement and blockades by armed groups on thousands of Colombian civilians in the area.

On Sunday he visited the town of Bellavista (Bojayá), where 119 civilians died in May 2002, after a missile hit the church where they were sheltering from firefights between irregular armed groups in the town, Mr. Redmond said.

Mr. Morjane visited the church, which still bears the scars of the attack, and then walked the streets of the town to talk with local residents. He also met with Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders, whose communities make up 95 per cent of the population in rural areas of this part of Colombia. "Mr. Morjane said the meetings helped him to understand the ethnic dimension of internal displacement in Colombia," Mr. Redmond said.

Yesterday the Assistant High Commissioner visited the town of Tangui, one of several communities suffering the effects of a blockade by armed groups along the Atrato River in northwestern Colombia. At the inauguration of a UNHCR-funded community centre, Mr. Morjane condemned blockades as a very serious transgression of international humanitarian law and human rights and called on all armed groups to stop them immediately.

Mr. Morjane is scheduled to travel to Ecuador tomorrow for a three-and-a-half day visit before returning to his agency's headquarters in Geneva this weekend.

[Source: UN News Service, NY, 27Jan04]

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