Prosecutors in Colombia have issued a warrant for a high-ranking army official who stands accused of leading a ring that sold military weapons to narco-paramilitary group the Urabeños, highlighting a common source of weapons for armed groups across the region.
Lieutenant Colonel Robinson Gonzalez del Rio led a group of four active members of the military, four retired members, two police and several private citizens that acquired guns, munitions and explosives for Colombia's leading criminal organization, according to the Attorney General's office.
The ring would source arms parts from military caches around the country, before delivering them to the Urabeños using military transport to avoid detection. Weapons experts within the network would assemble the arms, and even manufacture any missing parts.
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Suspicion fell on Gonzalez del Rio following the recent release of recordings of top military officials discussing corrupt dealings, in which he made reference to the sale of munitions. Gonzalez del Rio has already been arrested on separate charges related to extra-judicial killings and is currently in prison in Bogota.
Warrants have been issued for 13 former and current military personnel so far, but investigators believe the number of people involved in the network may be much higher, reported Semana.
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While Colombian prosecutors were targeting Gonzalez del Rio, their counterparts in El Salvador offered a reminder that the case is far from unique by taking similar action against Elmer Espinoza Hercules, an army major accused of stealing military arms and looking to sell them to Guatemalan and Mexican drug traffickers.
These cases are just the latest in a long line of incidents showing how security forces are a major source of weapons for armed groups, with the militaries throughout the region, including in Peru, Argentina and Mexico, all implicated in arms trafficking in recent years.
In Colombia, the fact that Gonzalez del Rio was supplying the Urabeños echoes of the era in which the military provided significant logistical support to the group's paramilitary predecessors, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), and is a reminder that ties between the military and paramilitary successor groups persist today.
However, when it comes to arms trafficking, corrupt factions of the Colombian military have shown in the past they are happy to cross the ideological divide, and have even sold arms to their sworn enemies in leftist guerrilla groups.