Cartels, ex-FARC alliance poses new threat in Colombia: HRW

Bogota (AFP) –


A growing alliance of Mexican drug cartels and dissident FARC guerrillas is opening up a new front in Colombia's deadly war on drugs, Human Rights Watch warned Thursday.

"Powerful Mexican cartels" are playing an increasing role in the flashpoint Tumaco area on Colombia's Pacific coast, where the murder rate has soared, HRW's Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco said.

Vivanco told reporters in Bogota the cartels had linked up with "irregular groups, fundamentally FARC dissidents" in Tumaco, near the border with Ecuador. The area is on a key drug trafficking route to the United States.

Vivanco was speaking at the launch of a 64-page HRW report that details continuing abuses by FARC dissident groups.

According to the report, while conflict-related abuses fell nationwide after a 2016 FARC peace deal with the government, they spiked in Tumaco.

"In 2017, the rate was four times the national average and data through September show killings are up nearly 50 percent in 2018," it said.

Prosecutors investigating the murders believe FARC dissidents have committed the majority of them.

According to the report, FARC dissident groups control and constrain the movements of the local majority Afro-Colombian population, setting curfews and carrying out widespread extortion of local businesses, even small stores.

Added to those crimes are regular kidnappings, torture and disappearances, a cocktail of violence that according to the government has forced more than 9,000 people to flee Tumaco since 2017.

The group says it conducted more than 70 interviews with victims and documented over 120 cases of abuse including rape, child recruitment, kidnapping and murder carried out since mid-2016.

"These cases represent only a fraction of the cases reported by government authorities," it said.

"Many abuses go unreported, due in part to the tight social control imposed by armed groups in vulnerable neighborhoods and rural communities in Tumaco," it said.

"The Colombian government should make sure these crimes are investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice," HRW said.

After four decades of war against drug trafficking, Colombia remains the world's biggest producer of cocaine.

UN figures showed that in 2017, the country had more land devoted to the cultivation of coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine, than ever before -- 171,000 hectares.