Fighting intensifies in eastern Colombia

Bogota: At least 23 people were killed in Colombia this weekend and 20 had to flee their homes as fighting between rebel groups intensified in the eastern state of Arauca, Colombia's Defense Minister said Monday.

The killings mark a setback for Colombia's government, which was able to bring down homicide rates in much of the country following a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

But it is now struggling to control violence in rural pockets of the country where smaller rebel groups and drug trafficking organisations are fighting over smuggling routes, coca fields, illegal mines and other assets.

Arauca is home to some of Colombia's largest oil wells and is also crossed by a pipeline that is regularly attacked by rebel groups that steal its oil. The state borders Venezuela and drug trafficking groups have been fighting over its smuggling routes for decades.

In a statement Monday, Colombia's army said the latest outbreak of violence was caused by fighting between the National Liberation Army, or ELN, guerrilla group and former members of the FARC who refused to join the peace deal. The army said that both groups are currently fighting for dominance over the area's drug trade.

Juan Carlos Villate, a human rights officer in the town of Tame, told Colombia's Blu Radio that he received reports of civilians who were dragged out of their homes and executed on Sunday by members of armed groups.

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