Colombia Sends More Troops To Restive Southwest

By Dialogo
September 30, 2011

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered a brigade of Marines to the restive southwestern Pacific coast to help crack down on rampant crime.

Santos said the 2,500 fresh troops will be based in the port of Tumaco, 745 miles southwest of Bogota, and will strengthen forces already in the region. Some 380 extra police officers have also been deployed to the area.

The southwestern Nariño region, on the border with Ecuador, is one of the most violent areas in Colombia. Leftist guerrillas, criminal gangs and former right-wing paramilitaries are all active in the region and engaged in an ongoing battle over control of the lucrative coastal Pacific drug trafficking routes.

The goal of the Marines will be to “close the corridors of mobility and logistical support for drug traffickers” from the nearby Cauca department to the border with Ecuador, Santos said.

Santos, a former defense minister, said that over the next months the number of troops in the region will increase from 2,800 to 3,350.

Last weekend seven people were murdered in Tumaco, Colombia’s southernmost port on the Pacific.

Rebels with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have launched 10 attacks in the Tumaco area this year, killing 14 police officers, according to city officials.

In mid-September at least four guerrillas were killed when Colombian Air Force planes bombed a FARC camp in the region located mere kilometer (0.6 miles) from the border with Ecuador.

The Colombian government has been battling the FARC – Latin America’s oldest rebel movement, estimated to have some 8,000 fighters – since 1964.

In March 2008, Colombian military forces raided a rebel camp just across the border inside Ecuador, killing Raul Reyes, the FARC’s number two commander.