In a joint operation, Panama and Colombia security forces destroyed two large FARC camps on Panamanian territory, as the two countries announced a new agreement that allows for better intelligence sharing.
Panama Security Minister Jose Raul Molino announced Tuesday that the security forces destroyed two camps belonging to the FARC's 57th Front. One of the camps was large enough to house 32 rebels, reports El Espectador.
Security forces found the camps in the most wild and thickly forested area along the Colombia-Panama border, a region known as the Darien Gap. The 57th Front, one of the wealthiest in the FARC thanks to its involvement in the international shipment of cocaine, uses the Darien as an important base of operations.
Molino mentioned the camps after meeting with Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon (pictured, left to right) Wednesday in Bogota, in order to discuss new terms for sharing security intelligence between the two countries.
As part of the agreement, Colombia will systematically share intelligence on drug flights and other suspicious aircraft with Panama, reports El Tiempo.
In addition, Colombian security forces will train Panamanian officials in more specialized operations, like collecting aerial intelligence and conducting drug interdictions at sea. The Colombian military will also offer a training course for Panama's border protection force.
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Colombia's concerns about the FARC use of Panama as a refuge helped produce the Binational Border Security Plan in 2011, intended to increase information sharing between the two countries. Besides facilitating more joint anti-drug trafficking operations, the treaty is also supposed to bolster Panama's capacity to confront the FARC.
A series of US State Department cables released in 2010 by WikiLeaks depicted the Panamanian border police as largely incapable of carrying out timely responses to FARC actions. One cable notes that after the 57th Front invaded an indigenous community on Panamanian territory in 2008, it took 10 days for the border police to mobilize to the scene. In part, the security pact with Colombia appears intended to help Panama conduct operations more quickly.
The guerrilla camps found in Panama were unusually large, and were indicative of just how comfortably the 57th Front is able to operate in the Darien Gap. In many parts of Colombia's territory, the FARC is more reliant on smaller, more mobile camps, often no larger than four or five people, in order to avoid being tracked by the Colombian Air Force. The FARC's ability to operate in relatively large groups in the Darien may be one reason why the Colombia-Panama security agreement appears to emphasize the sharing and collection of aerial intelligence.