Bogota: Violent criminal gangs formed out of former paramilitary groups are the biggest threat facing Colombia, a nation wracked by a half-century of civil war, the United Nations said Monday.
Between 2003 and 2006, groups encompassing 30,000 right-wing paramilitary members disbanded under former president Alvaro Uribe, with many later joining feared criminal gangs, notably for drug trafficking.
"The demobilized groups are the main challenge in terms of public security today in Colombia," said Todd Howland, who leads the UN human rights office in Colombia.
"They are the ones who attack and threaten human rights protectors and defenders, community leaders, state officials and victims who demand return of their land," Howland said in Spanish, presenting the office`s annual report in Bogota.
While the UN praised government action against the gangs, it also called for a "more comprehensive strategy" in fighting drug traffickers, including economic and social inclusion in poorer areas most affected.
The right-wing paramilitary groups may have disbanded, but government forces and leftist guerrillas are still at war.
Colombia`s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has been in peace talks with the government in Havana since 2012.
The negotiations have produced partial accords but have yet to yield a final deal.
The UN welcomed the "unprecedented advances" in the negotiations, but also called for the country`s guerrillas to respect international regulations forbidding recruitment of minors.
The Colombian armed conflict, Latin America`s longest, has killed 220,000 people and uprooted more than five million during the past five decades.