Following sustained fighting in Colombia’s southern Bolívar department, the Colombian Army’s First Division neutralized Bercelio Campuzano, alias Ratón, the main leader of a criminal subgroup of the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish), General Eduardo Zapateiro, commander of the Colombian Army, said on Twitter on January 22.
Alias Ratón had an arrest warrant for conspiracy to commit a crime, forced displacement, and extortion in four municipalities of the country, the Army said in a statement.
“He was also a murderer of social leaders, a murderer of community leaders, and he wanted to continue with kidnappings and extortion as his main means of funding,” Colombian President Iván Duque said on Facebook, on January 22.
Major General Gerardo Melo Barrera, commander of the Colombian Army’s First Division, told the press that Army troops led the operation, in coordination with the Colombian Air Force, Police, and Office of the Attorney General. He said agents also neutralized another member of this criminal subgroup, Luis José Sepúlveda, alias César, the third-in-command, and captured seven group members.
According to Duque, the individual was one of the most dangerous members of the ELN subgroups. He said that the criminal had “intimidated people in seven municipalities in the south of the department.” Colombia is facing a bloody fight to defend community leaders who are the target of criminal organizations that engage in narcotrafficking and illegal mining.
“The clarifications of the Office of the Attorney General,” Duque said, “show that the largest percentage of those behind the assassination of social leaders is [represented by] narcoterrorism, leading criminal groups such as Clan del Golfo, Los Caparros, Los Pelusos, the ELN, the Narcotalia, and FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] dissidents.”
The police told the Colombian newspaper El Universal that “alias Ratón declared war on the Clan del Golfo in the south of Bolívar, making alliances with the ELN and receiving their logistics and armed support.” The purpose, the article said, was “to get rid of [Clan del Golfo] gang members […], with the main dispute being the collection of money from illegal mining, narcotrafficking, and the extortion of businesses and ranchers.”
Maj. Gen. Melo said that the weapons and other equipment seized during the operation included a mini Uzi submachine gun, four 9mm pistols, two fragmentation grenades, a night viewer, six communication radios, seven cell phones, different calibers of ammunition, materiel, and 3 kilograms of explosives.