Colombia: May 13, 2002


The death toll in an isolated Colombian village of Bojaya rose to 108 on 5 May, where FARC rebels and right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (or "AUC") paramilitaries were fighting for control of strategic drug trafficking routes. 

This part of the Choco region is one of the poorest and most conflicted states in Colombia. The most-recent fighting in the region started on 29 April. There is no telephone communication and only limited radio contact with Bojaya, 235 miles northwest of Bogota. The jungle-covered area around Bojaya village can only be reached by air or the Atrato River.

Choco's police chief Colonel Ricardo Vargas told the press that 300 FARC guerrillas and 500 paramilitaries were involved in the battle while General Leonel Gomez (commander of the Colombian Army's 1st Division) estimated that it was about 800 FARC. Reuters reported on the 4th that 800-1,200 FARC attacked 500-600 paramilitaries. 

Among the mostly-civilian dead were dozens who had taken refuge in a church in the village of Bojaya when FARC fired inaccurate homemade mortars into that building on the 2nd (FARC uses cooking gas canisters packed with explosives as mortar rounds). Authorities said at least 38 of the dead were infants and children, while about 80 people (including the town priest) were still missing. 

Meanwhile, authorities in the capital continued to debate on how to rescue the survivors. The army (who some observers think fear ambushes) had still not come to the rescue of the impoverished villages. - Adam Geibel


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