At least 1,500 people have left their homes because of confrontations with unidentified armed groups in southeastern Colombian town of Tumaco.
The United Nations reports that they left following the killing of several campesinos in the area on October 5.
In total, 258 families of Afro-Colombian descent, from the four neighborhoods of Ciudad Dos Mil, Nuevo Milenio, Viento Libre and La Ciudadela, have gone.
They started to leave their homes the day after the killings according to a statement issued by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as armed groups reportedly fought each other “for the control of the territory.”
The gangs are said to have imposed invisible borders in the four districts, forcing local residents to stay in their homes between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. “as a mechanism of self-protection” according to the local branch of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Some went away to stay with relatives and friends in other parts of Tumaco, occasionally checking on their homes and belongings outside of the curfew hours.
The mayor's office delivered free food in the affected areas on Thursday.
The killings took place as coca growers were protesting Tandil against the forced eradication of their crops by the government.
Local reports and campesinos' rights groups insist state security forces opened fire on the demonstrators.
But the police have said dissident FARC rebels who have rejected the peace process in Narino, one of the areas hardest hit by state and drug trafficking violence, were responsible for the unrest.
Illegal armed groups had allegedly started “pressuring” local residents “so they would be human shields before the intervention of public forces for the eradication of coca crops,” according to the Afro-Colombian Community Council of the Autonomous Popele of Alto Mira and Frontera in a statement.
Issues related to illicit coca crops were a cornerstone of the peace deal signed last year between the government and the former FARC rebels. The government eventually agreed to implement a substitution program for the crops which were often the only viable way for poor rural communities to make a living.
One aspect of the agreement, supported by recommendations from human rights groups, including the U.N., was to shift the government's drug policy to target cocaine traffickers, instead of coca growers, moving the discrimination away from the rural poor.