Colombia launches ‘elite force’ to focus on rebels, drug gangs

The new unit consisting of seven,000 personnel can be deployed to frame with Venezuela and to drug trafficking hotspots.

Colombia on Friday launched a brand new army unit to focus on coca crops and cocaine manufacturing, illicit mining, and the unlawful armed teams who use such actions for monetary acquire.

Colombia’s determination to launch the unit, generally known as CONAT in its Spanish initials, got here whereas the nation was getting ready to restart aerial spraying of coca crops with the herbicide glyphosate – probably beginning on the finish of March – relying on the federal government receiving approval from the Constitutional Court.

“The unit was born to hit, repress, and break down the structures of drug trafficking and transnational threats linked to illegal mining, the trafficking of wildlife and people, and – of course – any transnational form of terrorism,” President Ivan Duque mentioned at a army base in Tolemaida.

Colombia, thought of the world’s main producer of cocaine, suspended aerial spraying of glyphosate in 2015 following warnings by the World Health Organization that the chemical was probably damaging to well being and the setting.

2021 02 26T171836Z 320652572 RC2H0M9K2Z7S RTRMADP 3 COLOMBIA CONFLICTThe new unit can be deployed to zones such because the Catatumbo area on the border with Venezuela, in addition to the provinces of Cauca and Putamayo [Courtesy Colombian Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

The new unit, consisting of seven,000 personnel, can be deployed to zones such because the Catatumbo area on the border with Venezuela, in addition to the provinces of Cauca and Putamayo, Defence Minister Diego Molano mentioned.

Colombia has confronted fixed stress from the United States, a significant vacation spot for cocaine, to cut back the scale of crops of coca, the drug’s chief ingredient.

During 2019, coca crops coated some 154,000 hectares (380,000 acres) in Colombia, with a possible to provide 1,137 tonnes of cocaine, in line with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. There are not any figures accessible for 2020.

The armed forces eradicated 321,240 acres (130,000 hectares) of coca final 12 months, in line with the federal government, and seized 500 tonnes of cocaine.

Drug trafficking has lengthy pushed Colombia’s inner armed battle, which has left greater than 260,000 lifeless and thousands and thousands displaced.

During his tackle, surrounded by helicopters, tanks and a whole bunch of troopers, Duque additionally mentioned the drive would pursue “without qualms” members of the ELN – the final lively insurgent group in Colombia, in addition to drug gangs and ex-FARC rebels who’ve deserted the phrases of a 2016 peace deal, he mentioned.

“Soldiers, it is a morally necessary, morally correct battle … Let’s go for the defence of Colombia!” he mentioned.

2021 02 26T171835Z 1839060785 RC2H0M9TZ88K RTRMADP 3 COLOMBIA CONFLICTSurrounded by helicopters, tanks and a whole bunch of troopers, President Ivan Duque additionally mentioned the drive would pursue ‘without qualms’ members of the ELN and ex-FARC rebels [Courtesy Colombian Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

When he first introduced the creation of the elite drive earlier this month, he mentioned a lot of its targets “are protected in Venezuela” although he didn’t point out direct army motion within the neighbouring nation. On Friday, Duque didn’t point out Venezuela.

But his assertion prompted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to pledge to “respond forcefully”.

From Caracas, he mentioned the nation’s safety forces ought to “clean the barrels of our rifles to answer them at any level we need to answer if Ivan Duque dares violate the sovereignty of Venezuela.”

Colombia and dozens of different nations recognise opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim president, prompting Venezuela to interrupt off diplomatic ties with its neighbour in 2019.

Colombia has repeatedly accused Venezuela of offering refuge to leftist armed teams, a cost Caracas has denied.