On January 6, 2022, the Colombian Army announced the deployment of two battalions to Arauca department, on the border with Venezuela, to confront the violence generated by clashes between dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish) and the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish).
The clashes, which left at least 27 people dead in Arauca in the first week of January, originated in Venezuela “due to the murder of a ringleader […] that had repercussions in different municipalities of Arauca,” Colombian Minister of Defense Diego Molano told CNN during an interview.
“These [FARC and ELN] groups have been operating freely in Venezuelan territory,” President Iván Duque said on January 3. “We will also be denouncing the protection that Nicolás Maduro has provided to these criminal groups. They commit crime and return to their protected area in Venezuela.”
To restore order, more than 600 soldiers arrived by air and land in less than 72 hours, deploying with armored vehicles to the municipalities of Saravena, Arauquita, and Tame, the Army said in a statement.
“[We will conduct] air assault and troop insertion at the most critical points to find the whereabouts of the armed groups and leaders who carried out the murders,” General Jorge Eduardo Mora, commander of the Colombian Army’s Eighth Division, said in a video published on the Colombian Army’s Facebook page.
Military operations currently involve more than 6,800 service members from the Army in Arauca department, covering nearly 450 kilometers along the border, the Colombian Army’s statement said.
The FARC dissidents and the ELN “have begun turf wars over narcotrafficking routes, the use of clandestine airstrips, in addition to confrontations over illegal mining in the region,” Molano told CNN.
The clashes between criminal groups in Arauca have forced 57 families to flee, and 50 people were still missing as of January 3, according to the Colombian nongovernmental organization Institute for Development and Peace Studies.
Colombian authorities found that seven of the criminals killed in the clashes were Venezuelan nationals with a history of homicide, extortion, and kidnapping, the Ministry of Defense indicated in a statement.