At the end of 1997, more than 350,000 persons remained internally displaced in Peru. Their situation continued to stabilize: those who returned to their homes and those who opted to remain in the cities where they sought refuge are now recovering from years of fear and privation. Peru hosted 30 refugees from various countries. Peru has granted permanent residence to more than 700 former refugees, mostly Cubans, and permits them to apply for citizenship. There were no new applicants for asylum in Peru in 1997. Internal Displacement During the 1980s, a violent insurgency and equally violent counter-insurgency, and human rights abuses committed against civilians by both sides, forced hundreds of thousands of Peruvian civilians to flee their Andean homes. By 1994, Communist Party of Peru/Shining Path insurgents had lost much of their strength, particularly in the Andean highland areas that were home to most of the displaced. The efforts of civil defense patrols formed by rural villagers themselves, and of the Peruvian military, helped achieve that. The number of civilians killed or who suffered human rights abuse has diminished significantly in recent years. According to Human Rights Watch, the Peruvian authorities reported no cases of extrajudicial execution or "disappearance" through October 1997. By 1997, the Shining Path only had a significant presence in the jungle areas of Junin and Pasco Departments (although Shining Path activity increased slightly in La Mar Province in mid-1997). Some 15,000 indigenous Ashaninkas are displaced in the jungle regions of Junin and Pasco. Of those, more than 10,000 live in six settlements for displaced persons, and some 3,000 to 5,000 remain involuntarily in areas under Shining Path control. Displaced Ashaninkas are assisted by the Catholic Church and NGOs, which provide seeds, clothing, and medical supplies. Government assistance has been limited to food and tools, and the security provided by the armed forces. Until mid-1997, Peruvian NGOs and the Peruvian government estimated the conflict had displaced 600,000 people. In July 1997, the Mesa Nacional sobre Desplazamiento (National Roundtable on Displacement), a consortium of the NGOs that works with the displaced, reassessed the number of displaced. It now says that only 430,000 became displaced. Although some observers do not agree with the Mesa's finding, the Mesa, whose members include most NGOs working with the displaced, has for several years been considered the most reputable source of information on displaced Peruvians. In 1994, tens of thousands of displaced persons returned home. The rate of return was lower in 1995, but increased again in 1996. During 1997, returns again decreased. The government estimates that approximately 58 percent of the previously estimated 600,000 displaced returned home. However, most independent observers believe that the government's estimates are too high. A study conducted by the Mesa found that the actual number of returnees is only 68,500, or just below 16 percent of the new estimate of 430,000 displaced (lower than its previous estimate of 120,000 returnees). Nearly 33,000 have returned to Ayacucho, the department that experienced the greatest level of displacement. According to the Mesa study, 84 percent of the approximately 360,000 persons who remain displaced do not plan to return to their areas of origin. According to PAR (Program of Support to the Repopulation), the government agency that assists displaced persons to return home, it helped about 150,000 of the 300,000 whom it says returned. However, most observers say that the majority of the displaced who returned home did so either on their own, or with NGO assistance. PAR says that for those whom it assisted, it helped organize the returns, provided the returnees emergency assistance and shelter material, and assistance such as seeds and farming tools aimed at helping returnees re-establish economic activity, usually agriculture. PAR says it also rebuilt schools, roads, health posts, latrines, and other infrastructure in the home communities. The Mesa and other observers say that PAR has, in fact, assisted a much smaller number and that assistance has not always been appropriate. USCR visited Peru in November 1997. An international NGO official said that for returnees in most of the communities where PAR had organized the return, it was difficult to make a living. Others said that in many cases, particularly where residents had returned from large cities‹away from the land for many years‹the communities were failing, with many returnees moving back to the cities where they had lived as displaced persons. According to members of the Mesa, however, many returnees are managing to improve their situation. On average, in 1997, returnee families were cultivating 50 percent more land than in 1996, about 1.5 hectares. Returnees are much more active in decision-making in their communities, and women have maintained many of the associations and clubs they formed while they were displaced to help each other survive. The Mesa adds that predicted large-scale land disputes between returnees and those who remained in their homes during the years of conflict did not materialize. Also, members of civil defense patrols, whom many observers feared might experience difficulties readjusting to civilian life, are also integrating into their communities. Human rights violations by members of some of these groups continue, however. Many displaced persons in cities and towns have decided to remain where they are. While their lives remain difficult, most have decided to integrate economically and socially. They have invested years of effort to achieve the modest stability they now have, and they fear that they may not be able to begin again in their areas of origin. As a consequence of the changed situation for displaced Peruvians, both PAR and the Mesa have broadened and shifted the focus of their work. PAR has undertaken what it calls the "million peasants' program," aimed at helping people in the conflict- and displacement-affected areas escape poverty. The Mesa has expanded its mandate. Its members now seek to assist the 1.6 million people it terms "war-affected," including the displaced, those who remained in their communities, and others directly or indirectly negatively affected by the conflict.

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