FARC strongholds shift to Colombia's periphery: NGO

Colombia FARC
The main areas of FARC activity have shifted from central to southwestern Colombia, according to a new report published on Thursday from conflict-monitoring NGO Nuevo Arco Iris.
The report, called "From Caguan to Havana," compared the FARC of the era of the 1998-2002 peace talks with the administration of ex-president Andres Pastrana to the rebel group which is currently involved in peace talks in Havana, Cuba with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.
"The FARC were never defeated," said Leon Valencia, the director of the NGO; "the end of the end of the guerrilla was a deception of [former President Alvaro] Uribe ... because of [his] announcements, the armed forces became careless."
The report said 2,400 members of the Colombian armed forces were either killed or wounded in rebel attacks in 2012.
The report found that the offensive launched by the Colombian armed forces between 2003 and 2005 (during the administration of former President Uribe) forced the FARC and rebels from the smaller ELN rebel group to retreat back to their traditional zones of influence in the west and south of Colombia and along the border areas with Venezuela and Ecuador. According to the NGO, FARC rebels responded to the offensive by concentrating their forces in the southwestern Cauca and Valle del Cauca departments, the southern Caqueta department, the central Meta department and the northeastern departments of Arauca and Norte de Santander.
"For the FARC, the capital is not Bogota, but Cali," said Leon Valencia, the NGO's director in an interview with El Colombiano.
"In the periphery of the country the military capacity of the FARC remains quite high, the public force had only limited [success] in the advances for land," said the report.
Between 2002 and 2012, the FARC lost control of over 85 of the 336 municipalities they had presence in, most of them in the areas surrounding the capital Bogota. However, Nuevo Arco Iris said the reconstruction process under killed FARC leader "Alfonso Cano" saved the guerrilla from defeat.
"From 2010 onwards, under the leadership of Alfonso Cano, the FARC succeed[ed] in taking in new air, they increase[d] their armed actions and the public force's victories were diminished [...] if the Colombian state retook control over the central part [of the country], the FARC are putting on a fight in the peripheral departments; the great amount of small operations in Cauca, Valle and Nariño during 2012 have been proof of this."
According to the NGO, FARC rebels launched on average 300 "actions" per month against security forces between January and August 2012. Most of these attacks were small-scale ambushes performed by rebels moving in small groups, using sniper rifles and explosives.
"2012 [was] the year in which the illegal armed groups most targeted the energy and oil sector of the country," said the report. In terms of statistics, the FARC launched 120 attacks against oil and energy in 2011, which increased to 341 in 2012, under the leadership of the new FARC leader, "Timochenko."

The report said the FARC does not have the capability to take power militarily, however, nor did they show up defeated to peace talks with the government in Havana. The NGO said the rebels used attacks against oil and energy infrastructure to pressure the government into peace talks.
"Although not defeated, it can be said they arrive [at the peace talks] with a great strategic disadvantage, which seems almost irreversible; the loss of the presence in the center of the country."
Furthermore, according to Valencia, the criminal, neo-paramilitary groups that arose after the demobilization of the paramilitary coalition AUC, remained a growing threat against Colombia.
"The principal threat against the country is the expansion of criminal gangs," said Valencia, while pointing out that the most problematic region in terms of these groups was in the country's southwest.
Source: http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/28435-farc-strongholds-shift-to-colombias-periphery-ngo-.html

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