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Rains Preventing Food Distribution in Colombia, World Food Program Says - 2002-08-15

Relief workers have said increased violence in Colombia is preventing the distribution of food to displaced people. The United Nations World Food Program said there are tens of thousands of who are in great need of assistance. Colombia has about 1.5 million internally displaced people. The World Food Program feeds 130,000 of them.

The Agency said it would like to feed three times that number, but is unable to get to them because of security concerns. It said the situation recently has become worse.

Since the inauguration of Colombia's new president, Alvaro Uribe, the violence has increased, hampering the agency's operations.

World Food Program spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, said last week the agency was hardly able to distribute any food.

The only exception was a delivery made to 7,000 people in Quibdo, a town in the northwest of the country. She said these people fled to Quibdo three months ago after 119 people were killed in a church which was attacked by rebels.

"They are the only ones that we have been able to feed last week and even that was very difficult because a convoy was stopped by illegal armed groups. The trucks are in town now and the distribution of rice, oil, beans and sugar is going on right now," Ms. Berthiaume said.

Ms. Berthiaume pointed out that malnutrition rates are very high particularly in rural areas. She said most of the displaced are women and children, many of whom have been uprooted several times. She noted the northeastern part of the country is very volatile and thousands of people have been on the move.

The WFP said more than 16,000 people, many of whom had been repeatedly threatened by rebels or paramilitary groups, have arrived in Cucuta, the provincial capital which borders Venezuela.

Spokeswoman Berthiaume said no one is safe. She noted several days before the August 7 presidential inauguration in the capital, Bogota, a bomb exploded in a government building just two blocks from where the World Food Program is headquartered.

She said a similar explosion occurred in the city of Cartagena. This occurred in a government building where representatives from non-governmental aid agencies and government officials were set to meet later that same day.