Drug groups ‘threaten Colombia’

Armed groups of
drug-traffickers have overtaken left-wing rebels as Colombia’s main source of
violence, local think tank Indepaz says.

The groups have emerged
since the demobilisation of the illegal United Self Defence Forces of Colombia
(AUC) paramilitaries.

The think tank says they are
present in 29 of Colombia’s 32 provinces.

It based its findings on its
own field work as well as data from government agencies and the media.

The demobilisation of the
AUC in 2006 was one of the main successes of former President Alvaro Uribe, who
left office in August.

But Indepaz said a dozen or
so new narco-paramilitary groups had quickly replaced the AUC in much of
Colombia.

With names like the Black
Eagles and Rastrojos, they combine control of cocaine production and smuggling
with extreme violence, though with less of a political agenda.

Indepaz estimates they have
as many as 13,000 members.

The BBC’s Jeremy McDermott
in Colombia says the cocaine trade is still the principal motor of the armed
conflict, providing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the illegal
armed groups.

The AUC was formed by
landowners and drug lords to battle the left-wing rebels of the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

It was also heavily involved
in drug trafficking and committed widespread human rights abuses against
civilians, including massacres and forced displacement.

More than 30,000
paramilitaries were demobilized and many leaders extradited to the US to face
drugs charges.

But the legal process
underlying the demobilisation has been criticised for allowing many to escape
punishment for serious crimes.

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