The Colombian government has sent nearly 500 extra troops to the Pacific province of Choco, where transit and business have been paralyzed by FARC rebels placing a ban on movement on the main roads and rivers.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have threatened to attack anyone using the main roads or waterways in Choco, in an “armed strike” that started on November 8 and is set to run until November 17.
Following a November 13 emergency meeting of the heads of the armed forces and police in Choco, the government decided to send 120 soldiers and 360 navy personnel to the province. It also drastically raised the reward for information leading to the capture of alias “Chaverra” — one of the leaders of the FARC’s 34th Front — from some $5,000 to $50,000, according to Caracol Radio.
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Local government officials also told Caracol Radio that the strike was backed by the Rastrojos gang, which is also active in the region. Though the FARC and the Rastrojos have had dealings with each other in Colombia’s southwest, it is unlikely that this would extend to carrying out joint military actions. A recent InSight Crime trip to the region found no evidence of an “alliance” between the two groups, which were fighting with each other in some places even as they collaborated on cocaine shipments in others.
Choco is a highly strategic region for the FARC and new-generation drug gangs like the Rastrojos because it is an exit point for shipping illicit drugs via the Pacific. The FARC has launched a number of armed strikes in the province, most recently in March this year. In May 2011, the rebels detained 200 individuals in Choco during another such strike.
Despite the fact that peace talks with the government are currently underway, the FARC has continued its campaign of attacks in many areas of the country, including the bombing of a police station in Cauca province on November 11, which wounded 25 and has been attributed to the rebels. The group offered a ceasefire to the government while talks took place, but it was refused.