BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — At least 1,150 people fled their homes in Colombia's Choco province over the weekend to escape fighting between leftist insurgents and a paramilitary group that is expanding its grip on the region, the nation's Human Rights Ombudsman said Tuesday.

In a statement, the agency said armed men identifying themselves as members of the Gaitanista Self Defense Forces of Colombia had entered the riverside village of Dipurdú del Guasimo last week and interrogated residents while spray painting buildings with their group's initials.

A few days later, the agency said, fighting broke out between the Gaitanistas and the National Liberation Army guerrilla group, causing residents to flee to nearby villages in Choco, a province that is mostly inhabited by AfroColombians and Indigenous people.

The agency said the people who left Dipurdú del Guasimo are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. The area has few roads and most villages can be reached only through river transport.

The government is struggling to control isolated rural areas where armed groups are fighting over illegal gold mines and drug trafficking routes abandoned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, once the country's biggest rebel movement that signed a peace deal in 2016 and disbanded.

Fighting between these smaller groups has led to a rise in the displacement of civilians. According to the Human Rights Ombudsman, violence forced more than 44,000 people to flee their homes in the first six months of this year. That compares to an estimated 13,900 in the same period of 2020.