The FARC released a message on their website Tuesday claiming responsibility for a downed military aircraft that led to the death of two crew members in the southwestern department of Cauca on July 11.
A message dated July 12, posted on the FARC’s website, which was down at the time of publication, read: “The fact is that we were exchanging fire every day with the army and the police,” referring to ongoing clashes with security forces that were occuring at the time of the plane’s crashing. “We opened fire immediately from different points, even using a 50 [caliber] machine gun.”
The Super Tucano airplane crashed near the municipality of Jambolo last Wednesday, killing two air force members. The FARC’s Jacobo Arenas Column were quick to claim they shot down the aircraft soon after the incident, publishing photos that supposedly proved their culpability.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos challenged the rebel group’s claims July 12, 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.
Air force authorities supported Santos’ statements, concluding that the plane was not shot down “by any .50 caliber machine gun, and much less by a missile,” after inspecting the aircraft’s remains July 14.
If the FARC has managed to procure anti-aircraft guns it could be a turning point in the Colombian conflict, as the government’s ability to carry out airstrikes has been one of its most powerful counterinsurgency tools, particularly in rural areas.
Cauca is a traditional FARC stronghold, and a string of violent incidents in recent days has highlighted and intensified the troubling security situation in the department.
A motorcyle loaded with explosives, allegedly by the FARC, detonated July 10, killing a nine-year-old boy and injuring five others.
The ongoing conflict between the FARC and government troops has forced an estimated 600 people from their homes in recent weeks, causing some 400 people to occupied a military base near the troubled town of Toribio July 11 to demand the withdrawal of armed actors — 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 to announce a security strategy aimed at curbing violence in Cauca. The plan would increase military presence in the region and encourage social development.