When the sun starts to go down in the north-east of Medellin, residents hurry home and close their doors. Nobody wants to be on the streets when the gangs come out.
But, at least on Monday, residents of Medellin’s Comuna 1, comprising the neighborhoods of La Silla, La Torre, La Galera, La Veredita and El Hoyo, felt a little safer as a military detachment joined police for the night patrol.
A reporter from the Medellin newspaper El Colombiano and a photographer from French press agency AFP accompanied the joint patrol, which aims to maintain the peace in the area near Santo Domingo, which under threat from the gangs La Galera, La Silla, La 38 and La Torre.
Before the joint patrol, Colonel Miguel Fernandez of the Pedro Nel Ospina Battalion addressed his men: “We will be very tough, but very respectful of the rights of civilians.”
Soldiers and police patrolling together have become a common sight in Medellin, due to the sharp increase in violence among gangs fighting over territory and the drug trade.
Colombian police claimed a nationwide decrease in homicides in 2009, but there is evidence that the murder rate in the country’s three largest cities has grown dramatically. In Medellin, where violence exploded because of ongoing gang warfare, police say that the murder rate went from 871 in 2008 to 1,431 in 2009, a 64% rise.
Colombian media reported there were eleven homicides in Medellin on this January 1 alone.
On Monday, the soldiers deployed to previously agreed locations and, supported by DAS, the Colombian state intelligence agency, began to question and identify youths roaming the area’s maze of streets, El Colombiano reported.
One resident of La Silla asked the military to not leave the area for a single minute, because the La Galera gang had been exploiting the lack of law enforcement presence to harass his neighbors with rifles.
“Colonel, this is serious. Look, last night they shot a police lieutenant in the face with a carbine. It was a sniper, and and although the military inspires respect, also today they shot one of the soldiers in the foot. These people do not respect anyone, they don’t even care that there are children playing in the streets,” The man, who was not identified, pleaded with Fernandez. “This must be fought with all the energy of the state.”
El Colombiano did not have further information on the two alleged wounded security force members. However, Fernandez said in the report that since Sunday the Battalion will keep a presence in the area indefinitely, providing support to the police.