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UNICEF: More People Fleeing Increasing Violence in Colombia

UNICEF reports more people in Colombia are leaving their homes because of the country's mounting violence and worsening economy. The U.N. agency said children and women are the main victims.

UNICEF said living conditions have long been bad in Colombia, but they have gotten even worse recently. Agency officials have said in the last two years, 350,000 people, most of them women and children in rural areas, have been forced from their homes.

In remarks to reporters in Geneva, Manuel Manrique, UNICEF's chief officer in Colombia, said most of the displaced end up in major urban centers, where life is usually even harder for them.

"When these displaced populations come to the city, they arrive in even worse conditions because it is difficult to get schooling, difficult to get housing, difficult to get health care or any of the basic services The government is in no condition to take care of their needs," he said.

Mr. Manrique said the poor living conditions make Colombia's young people vulnerable to offers from guerrilla or paramilitary groups. He said they are often willing recruits because they want to escape the grinding poverty of their lives.

"In some cases the group offers money in exchange or in many others perhaps the fact that children who have no opportunity at all in their lives, they prefer to go to these groups, especially in the case of boys because of the attraction of having a uniform and using a gun or participating in exciting things, supposedly, according to them," he said.

Mr. Manrique said UNICEF is doing all it can to help Colombia's thousands of displaced people live better lives, but he acknowledges the country's needs are too great for any one aid agency to make a significant dent.