Roberto Menéndez, head of the OAS Support Mission to the peace process in Colombia, sounded the alarm in an interview given to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, in which he alleges that several armed groups have taken advantage of the displacement of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) soliders, in order to occupy key areas that the guerrillas abandoned.
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According to Menéndez, criminal gangs and other armed groups seek to occupy the lands left behind by the FARC, in order to expand drug routes or to seek illegal mines to exploit and profit from them, especially in the plains region of eastern Colombia.
Menéndez said it is difficult to determine whether there was a formal collusion between the FARC guerrillas and the ELN (National Liberation Army) to cede their territories, but the phenomenon of occupation by other armed groups is readily apparent due to citizen complaints and graffiti, as well as other means in which the community is made aware that another illegal group that now has taken control of certain areas.
The official also warned that there have been a series of clashes between armed groups for control of certain areas, that has generated forced displacement of families in some rural areas of the Pacific coast, caused by criminal gangs that are looking for strategic corridors to cultivate and/or transport narcotics.
Finally, Menéndez urged caution as the government proceeds with the demobilization plan for the guerrillas, noting that the Colombian state must make its presence known in the abandoned territories in order to prevent them from being occupied by new illegal armed groups that perpetuate violence.
Source: El Tiempo