Illegal mining, Colombian armed criminal groups and common crime are the three main markets for Ecuador's illegal arms trade, according to authorities, as the black market continues to be a headache for both that country and its neighbor Colombia.
During 2013 and the first three months of 2014, Ecuador's Armed Forces seized 4,530 illegal firearms, and 457,310 rounds of ammunition, reported El Comercio. An unnamed top police official told the newspaper that some of the weapons entering the country illegally come from the army stores of other countries, while others enter via Ecuadorean ports.
According to the report, the distribution and sale of weapons on Ecuador's black market is largely managed by local illegal groups, which sell rifles for up to $5,000 each.
Firearms, ammunition and explosives destined for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are also trafficked into Colombia via clandestine routes along the border, according to police intelligence sources cited by El Comercio. In January, Ecuador made what was reportedly its largest ever seizure of arms destined for Colombian rebel groups, reported ANDES.
In a more recent operation, Ecuadorean police seized handguns and high-caliber weapons belonging to 10 individuals suspected of involvement in assaulting armed vehicles used for money transfer and financial institutions.
In 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, around 60 percent of the country's 2,097 registered murders were committed using a firearm.
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The main buyers of the illegal arms that move through Ecuador are believed to be the 29th and 48th fronts of the FARC's Southern Bloc, which are active along the shared border. In addition to getting cheap arms supplies, including explosives, from Ecuador, the Colombian rebels also use the neighboring territory as a weapons production center.
Colombian criminal groups known as the BACRIM (from the Spanish abbreviation for "criminal bands") have also expanded their influence in Ecuador in recent years, and likely participate in the arms trade. If, as the police suggest, a main destination for arms is illegal mining in Ecuador, this raises the possibility that armed groups such as the guerrillas, the BACRIM or even homegrown organized crime groups are involved in these operations, which have been indentified near the Colombian border.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador
As noted by the police, a common source of weapons is corrupt members of the security forces. The spokesperson laid the blame on foreign institutions, but there have also been cases of army members from Ecuador caught arms trafficking.