20 Mar 2023, 08:59

Colombia suspends ceasefire with drug cartel

 BOGOTÁ, March 20, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - President Gustavo Petro suspended Sunday a ceasefire with Colombia's biggest drug trafficking group, accusing it of attacking civilians. 

"I ordered the security forces to resume all military operations against the Gulf Clan," he said on Twitter.

"I will not allow them to keep sowing distress and terror in the communities," Petro added. 

The government says the clan is behind harassment and attacks on people in northwest Colombia over the past two weeks.

Just before the new year, Petro's government declared a bilateral ceasefire with several armed groups, including the Gulf Clan, National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels and dissidents of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.

It was a first step in leftist Petro's "total peace" plan to end decades of armed conflict through negotiation with criminal groups, as opposed to the hardline approach taken by his conservative predecessor Ivan Duque.

But almost immediately, the policy ran into problems.

The Marxist ELN denied having signed the deal, while the government claims there have been numerous violations of the pact by FARC dissidents.

The government says the Gulf Clan has been supporting attacks by illegal gold miners since March 2 in the Bajo Cauca area of Antioquia department. 

Workers in illegal mines have been protesting the government's destruction of the heavy machinery they use to dredge up soil to find gold.

Miners have shut down roads, attacked a town hall and a bank in the Caucasia district. 

Criminal groups in Colombia make almost as much money from illegal mining as they do from trafficking cocaine, according to authorities.

The Gulf Clan is made up of former right-wing paramilitaries, who were broken up in a 2006 peace deal negotiated by then-president Alvaro Uribe, an agreement Petro considers to have been a failure.

According to official estimates, the Clan is behind between 30 and 60 percent of the drugs exported from Colombia, the world's largest producer of cocaine.

Opposition parties and some experts say the security forces were at a disadvantage in the ceasefire with the Gulf Clan and the rebels, arguing that only the government side observed the truce.

"There was never a bilateral ceasefire with the Gulf Clan," said right-wing former presidential candidate Federico Gutierrez.

He said it was "grossly irresponsible to leave the civilian population defenseless for so long."




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