The massacre of five men from Colombia just across the border in Venezuela's Tachira state has drawn attention to the cross-border operations of criminal groups the Rastrojos and the Urabeños, which allegedly hide their victims' bodies in mass graves, and train recruits on the Venezuelan side.
On March 7, an armed group shot and killed five men from the east Colombian town of Cucuta. According to the sole survivor of the incident, Alexis Daniel Baldriche Contreras, the Colombians were approached by a "pimpinero" -- a Venezuelan vendor of contraband gasoline -- while swimming in the Tachira River, which marks the border with Venezuela, reported El Espectador. The pimpinero claimed they had robbed him, and forced them across the border, where other attackers arrived saying they were "Urabeños Fronterizos" (Border Urabeños) members.
The men were tied up and forced to dig their own graves, said Baldriche, who managed to flee from the scene. He later returned to show the families of the dead men where the bodies lay.
Cucuta locals said they found more holes in the area, indicating the presence of mass graves, in which they believe Colombians who have disappeared are buried, reported Caracol (see video).
Wilfredo Cañizares, director of a local NGO, said the BACRIM (from the abbreviation of the Spanish for "criminal bands") run arms training camps for Colombian youth in the Venezuelan municipality of Ureña. The youths are later provided Venezuelan identification, he added.
The area ombudsman said youth are forcibly recruited by these groups in Cucuta neighborhoods.
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A BACRIM presence has been documented in Tachira state since at least 2008. The Aguilas Negras were the first group to move in, but the region quickly became the domain of the Rastrojos.
When the Rastrojos national strength began to decline, the Urabeños established a significant presence there, as evidenced by the discovery of two alleged Urabeños camps in Tachira and the arrest of three Venezuelans accused of belonging to the group in 2013.
SEE ALSO: BACRIM in Venezuela Profile
Given this context, it is entirely possible such groups are recruiting youth and training them across the border. The BACRIM are also known to be involved in the regional contraband gasoline trade, making Baldriche's account of the massacre feasible as well.
Claims of mass graves cast doubt on the 2013 reports of a approximately 23 percent drop in murders in Cucuta. According to forensics institute Medicina Legal, 113 people have been reported disappeared in Cucuta in 2013 and 2014.