The FARC rebel group has been increasing its arms purchases since the beginning of peace talks with the Colombian government, according to an Ecuadorean general.
Army General Fernando Proaño Daza, who commands troops on his country’s border with Colombia, told EFE that arms trafficking had increased since the beginning of the peace process, which formally began in October. According to Proaño, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is "taking advantage of this situation to strengthen its position, as a precaution against what could happen in the future."
The general said that the the army had seized large quantities of weapons and ammunition in recent months, including some 1,300 sticks of explosives in a clandestine arms factory close to the Colombian border on January 9.
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Suspicion that the FARC are using peace talks in order to gain a respite from military attacks and build up their strength is one of the biggest obstacles the Colombian government faces in selling the talks to the public. During the last round of peace talks the government granted the FARC a large demilitarized zone, which the rebels used to build up their forces and launch attacks for more than three years, until negotiations fell apart in 2002.
The government of Juan Manuel Santos has been careful to avoid any suggestion that history could repeat itself, refusing to grant a ceasefire while talks take place, even after the FARC declared in November that they would temporarily suspend hostilities.
The FARC's ceasefire is due to end on January 20, although the government has repeatedly claimed that the rebels failed to honor their pledge and have carried out a string of attacks. It is possible, however, that these were carried out by dissident rebel factions that refused to recognize the temporary truce, and were not military actions sanctioned by the FARC's top leadership.
Meanwhile, the Colombian government is taking its own measures to prepare for the possibility that talks could fail, announcing the purchase of $7.6 billion of new military equipment in 2013, and the expansion of the armed forces by 25,000 troops over the next two years. Santos justified the investment in the military by stating, "We have to be prepared for anything. This means reinforcing our infrastructure in case the dialogues fail," as Dialogo Americas reported.
Ecuador is an important source of weapons for the Colombian rebels, who have been known to maintain munitions and arms factories in the neighboring country. The FARC also use Ecuador as a source of explosives like pentolite. Corrupt official networks in Ecuador have also been accused of collaborating with the FARC, according to a 2006 United Nations report, which described the Ecuadorean military as a major supplier of weapons to the rebel group.