The Colombian Air Force said Thursday afternoon two crew members manning a crashed airplane, which may have been shot down by guerrillas, had been found dead in the southwestern Cauca department.
Air Force Commander General Tito Pinilla confirmed the deaths and identified the two crew members as Oscar Castillo and Andres Serrano Lemus.
The commander said there were “no indications that [the plane] was shot down by the FARC,” despite the group’s “Jacobo Arenas” column issuing photographs that supposedly proved they were responsible for the attack. Earlier on Thursday Pinilla said it “could not be ruled out” that FARC guerrillas had shot the plane down.
“We have already found the lost aircraft. One body is at the site, the other is with the FARC,” said Pinilla, adding that intercepted FARC messages revealed that the guerrilla group were planning to plant mines around the site of the crash to hinder the military’s recovery efforts.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos commented on the news Thursday, saying “We still don’t know what happened, but it is very improbable the plane was shot down by the FARC because they have no capacity to do it,” referring to the group’s lack of anti-aircraft weaponry. If the FARC has managed to procure anti-aircraft weaponry it could be a game-changer in the Colombian conflict, as the government’s ability to carry out airstrikes has been one of its most powerful counterinsurgency tools.
Cauca is a traditional FARC stronghold, and a string of violent incidents in recent days highlighted the troubling security situation in the department.
A motorcyle loaded with explosives, allegedly by the FARC, detonated Tuesday killing a nine-year-old boy and injuring five others.
A privately-owned helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in the town of Argelia Tuesday, after which the aircraft’s two-man crew were believed to be kidnapped by FARC guerrillas, and remain missing.
400 people occupied a military base near the troubled town of Toribio Wednesday, where ongoing conflict between the FARC and government troops forced an estimated 600 people from their homes in recent weeks, to demand the withdrawal of armed groups — whether legal or not — from their town. “We will not attack the military(…) We will only ask them to withdraw, as has been done with the guerrillas,” said Toribio’s former Mayor Gabriel Pavi.
Santos visited the indigenous community Wednesday to announce a security strategy aimed at curbing violence in Cauca. The plan would increase military presence in the region and encourage social development.