Colombia’s second largest city Medellin called in help from the national government Wednesday after massive warfare between gangs paralyzed the city’s west.
Mayor Alonso Salazar asked newly sworn-in Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to speed up the process of electing a new prosecutor general, who will be able to adopt special measures to help local authorities combat the soaring murder rate.
Salazar visited the troubled San Javier neighborhood in the west of the city where on Tuesday several members of one gang were executed and combat broke out in the streets. The violence forced inhabitants to stay inside, with 250 children locked inside their school and public transport suspended until long after midnight.
The massive fighting ended after human rights personnel from the Ombudsman’s Office, and some 150 policemen and soldiers took control of the neighborhood.
However, some residents accused police and soldiers of being complicit in the violence.
“The same soldiers who are supposedly here to guard the neighborhood stood by and watched while the gangs shot at each other,” one resident told Colombia Reports. “Gang members broke down my door and pulled my grandson out of his room and beat him up in the street. Not until several minutes went by did the police take him away and put him in custody.”
Seventeen families were forced to flee their houses, fearing retaliation from gangs if they stayed in the neighborhood. Several of the victims testified that gang members threatened to kill anyone who reported that police and soldiers had watched without interfering.
Dozens of alleged members of the “La Divisa” and “La Agonia” gangs, which are active in San Javier, were arrested.
Violence has been soaring in Medellin since the beginning of 2009 when the government of former President Alvaro Uribe extradited leaders of the demobilized paramilitary coalition AUC, who were accused of still ruling the city’s underworld.
According to the national police, two new paramilitary leaders, Sebastian and Valenciano, are now fighting for control of the drug trade left uncontrolled after the AUC leaders’ extradition. The violence left more than 2,000 people dead in 2009 and continued to worsen in the first half of this year.