Colombia’s turtle race for the FARC’s hidden arms caches

Authorities, demobilizing FARC guerrillas and the United Nations are set to enter Colombia’s jungles to collect weapons caches hidden by the rebel group. But, they are late and not alone.

Paramilitary groups, dissident FARC guerrillas and drug traffickers want to obtain these free weapons as much as the authorities want to get rid of them.

So far, demobilized FARC guerrillas have surrendered almost 8,000 weapons, or 85% of the arms in their possession, UN Colombia chief Jean Arnault told press Wednesday.

However, the hard part is yet to come.

Over the past decades, the FARC has built up an impressive arsenal of weapons, many of those hidden in caches in former guerrilla territory now disputed by former rivals, members and allies.

Seized weapons cache of the FARC’s dissident 7th Front (Image credit: National Army)

As part of the peace agreement, these caches will have to be picked up from the dense jungles and rugged mountains to safely be transported to the camps where the UN oversees the containers for decommissioned guns and explosives.

According to the UN mission chief, “there are dozens of caches” hidden in some of Colombia’s most remote areas, making it one of the most challenging logistical operations of the FARC’s demobilization and disarmament process.

“In the coming two or three days we will agree to a detailed timetable for this process with the FARC and the government,” Arnault said.

Try-outs for the massive operation have already been held, the UN’s mission chief said.

However, the security forces, the FARC and the UN will have to enter areas where they are not alone, partly because they are late.

The operations were initially to be carried out between October and November last year, but were halted after Colombia’s voters rejected an initial peace deal.

The shock vote spurred desertion among guerrillas and gave other illegal armed groups a head start in the race for the valuable weapons caches.

How Colombia just threw a firecracker between a bunch of heavily armed groups

At least six guerrilla fronts of the FARC’s Eastern Bloc, the former guerrillas’ main military unit, have since left the organization and should know exactly where these weapons caches are hidden.

Having already spent months outside their former guerrilla organization, these groups are likely to already have moved the caches in order to maintain the military power needed for control over either territory or criminal rackets.

This poses a challenge primarily in the coca-rich central provinces of Meta and Guaviare where, apart from the FARC dissidents, at least four illegal armed groups are active, paramilitary groups AGC, Bloque Meta and Libertadores, and the FIAC, a group with unclear origins.

In other areas, the authorities will have to penetrate areas that have fallen under control of paramilitary groups like the AGC, which has been recruiting and presumably arming intensely, also among FARC fighters, ever since peace talks began in 2012.

Colombia’s largest neo-paramilitary group AGC claims to have 8,000 members

This means that the search for the FARC’s weapons caches could result in armed resistance or end up disappointing in regards to the effective removal or arms from Colombia’s conflict.

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