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Reply #14: Mercenaries are playing their games here [View All]

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seemslikeadream Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-07-04 11:31 PM
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14. Mercenaries are playing their games here

Young Rafael Redondo and his mother try to avoid staying outside in their city where almost 300 people have been murdered this year

Sometimes the 11-year-old author of these lines, Rafael Redondo, awakens in the middle of the night and remembers gunfire. He is startled from sleep by memories of the day when a right-wing paramilitary squad stormed into his village in northern Colombia, killed two men and threatened to make the entire hamlet "disappear." Days later, on Christmas Eve 1996, Rafael, his parents and five brothers and sisters joined 14 other terrified families and fled the village for their lives.

When he wakes, Rafael discovers his nightmare is not over. Now resettled in a violent neighborhood in Colombia's oil center, Barrancabermeja, he still hears gunshots. A wave of murders has terrified his new hometown, leaving nearly 300 people dead so far this year.

"You can't stay out on the streets for long," Rafael said. "You never know when a shooting will break out and someone could fall over dead."

Instead of escaping the violence, Rafael's family moved into the middle of a widening war being fought by leftist guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army for possession of one of the country's most valuable regions. The target: Barrancabermeja, the largest city in a strategic river valley rich in oil, gold and, most recently, coca, the shrub used to produce cocaine.

Rafael hides his fear well. The smiling boy is playful and quick to compose poems describing his daily life. When he talks about the violence, however, he begins dreaming of home.

"I liked it there, back when we were still not in the middle of the conflict."

Rafael's words are echoed by a growing number of Colombians who have been swept up in the country's civil war, now nearly 40 years old, a conflict that has claimed more than 35,000 lives in the past decade and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Young guerrillas drill at a FARC camp in Los Pozos. Teen-age guerrillas are becoming more common on the battlefields of Colombia.

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