Report: New criminal gangs in Colombia

New criminal gangs are emerging in areas once controlled by paramilitary groups, undermining a peace process under which 31,000 right-wing fighters have demobilized, according to a report by the Colombian government.

Report: New criminal gangs in Colombia
New criminal gangs are emerging in areas once controlled by paramilitary groups, undermining a peace process under which 31,000 right-wing fighters have demobilized, according to a report Wednesday by the Colombian government.

The armed gangs, dedicated mainly to drug trafficking and extortion, have as many as 5,000 members, 17 percent of which are believed to be rearmed paramilitaries who renounced violence under a 2003 peace accord, according to the report released by the Commission of Reparation and Reconciliation.

Echoing the findings of the United Nations and other international peace observers, the semiautonomous government commission said 34 independent bands had surfaced in 200 municipalities across the country.

Most operate in areas formerly controlled by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC for its Spanish initials, a paramilitary umbrella group.

"The government must urgently determine what links exist between the old AUC bosses — today in the maximum security Itagui jail — with the illegal groups, drug-trafficking and mafia structures in areas where their demobilized militias used to operate," the report said.

Unlike the paramilitaries, which emerged in the 1980s to combat marauding leftist rebels before evolving into drug trafficking groups responsible for hundreds of civilian massacres, the new gangs seem to have no well-defined political agenda.

Indeed, the report said in some parts of the country they are believed to be trafficking cocaine together with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which relies on the drug trade to finance its half-century old insurgency.

The emergence of the new gangs — and possible expansion in the face of government inability to reign them in — jeopardizes the future of the fragile peace process with the AUC, the commission said.

Although the bulk of Colombia's right-wing militias have laid down their weapons since 2003, jailed paramilitary bosses have threatened to stop providing testimony to prosecutors investigating their crimes over what they see as the government's scant attention to the plight of their former fighters.

Victims, meanwhile, complain the government is being too lenient with paramilitary bosses behind some of the worst atrocities in Colombia's long-running conflict, whom they accuse of continuing to run their criminal networks — and the new gangs — from jail.

Under the 2003 law governing the peace process, militia fighters who disarmed were granted amnesty from rebellion and guaranteed a monthly stipend of about $350 as well as job training opportunities. Their bosses were promised protection from extradition on drug-trafficking charges and maximum sentences of eight years.

Colombia has received more than $5 billion in anti-narcotic and counterinsurgent aid from the United States since 2000, more than any other country outside the Middle East and Afghanistan.

AP
Last Mod: 16 Ağustos 2007, 12:52
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