Of 33 armed paramilitary groups that emerged from the demobilization of the largest right-wing militia group in Colombia, the AUC, only six remain, the National Police say.
According to the Police, aggressive operations against the paramilitary groups, which are now largely criminal gangs and drug trafficking rings, led to the capture of 2,182 known members, forcing many of the bands to merge in order to stay in existence, according to the Colombian news outlet El Nuevo Siglo.
Many of the gangs, such as “Los Rastrojos,” “Los Urabeños,” and “Los Paisas,” emerged during a power vacuum created when the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, demobilized during peace talks in 2006.
At that time more than 31,000 paramilitaries were demobilized under the Justice and Peace process by the government of President Alvaro Uribe. The new groups that formed are equally brutal, and have been linked to drug trafficking and to the crime wave in departments such as Antioquia.
The director of the DIJIN, Gen. Luis Gilberto Ramirez Calle, said that police this year have captured important leaders of Los Rastrojos, for example, and have also seized cocaine shipments and arms in the departments of Antioquia, Cesar and Santander.
Many of the members left behind simply merged with other groups, but now only six groups remain out of the 33 that emerged since the AUC demobilization, police say.
According to police intelligence, there are about 3,750 members in the combined groups. While the majority are armed fighters, about 1,170 of them are identified as forming a “support network.”
While police welcome the reduction in activity, they caution that the emerging criminal networks will continue to grow as they reorganize, especially with efforts to recruit demobilized members of the AUC, unemployed youths, and those displaced by violence in rural areas.
State security agencies are working hard to undermine the support networks of these armed groups, which police say are responsible for killing many people and sending cocaine shipments to the U.S. and Europe.
Police say that in the past year 1,937 members of criminal gangs, including 286 demobilized AUC, were captured from various outlaw groups. Also, police seized 1,094 firearms, over 70,000 rounds of ammunition, 631 grenades, 97 tons of cocaine, 168 tons of marijuana and 574 kilos of heroin, as well as vehicles and property owned by the outlaw armed gangs.
The fight against these illegal groups also resulted in the destruction of more than 100 laboratories that process cocaine.
The police, the armed forces, the DAS and the prosecution are now focusing their operations against the Uraba criminal gang, the network of Los Paisas, Los Rastrojos and other groups, and offer large cash rewards to those who can provide information leading to capture of their remaining leaders.