A gang of hooded men have tried to blow up a bridge and set fire to two public service vehicles in southwest Colombia, according to the police.
The gang, acting in an area hit by the nationwide rural protests, are accused of burning an armored vehicle belonging to the National Unit of Protection on the road connecting the municipalities of Campoalegre and Hobo in Huila department, before exploding dynamite on a bridge on the same road later on Monday.
On Sunday, the same group reportedly set light to a public bus that tried to use a different route between the two municipalities. The bus was intercepted by the hooded men who, after telling the passengers to get off, set it on fire.
The governor of Huila, Carlos Mauricio Iriare, flew over the bridge and signaled that although it was not completely destroyed, it’s use had been severely compromised by large holes in the road.
No one was injured in the explosion, which occurred near to the crossroads where some 3500 farmers are protesting as part of the national strike.
Authorities say that the protesters have prevented them from getting to the bridge and making repairs. So far 5 people have been injured in the protests in this area: 2 policemen and 3 civilians.
Andres Villamizar, Director of the National Unit of Protection, a branch of the Interior Ministry, blames the vandalism on violent factions within the national protests: “It’s fine to protest, it’s fine to fight for the rights of the farmers; but what these vandals are doing has nothing to do with the farmers, nor their rights, nor their just claims that, what’s more, are now being considered by the government.”
The chief of police in Huila, Juan Francisco Peláez, has echoed this sentiment, saying that the protests, which began on August 19th, have been infiltrated by guerrilla fighters and criminal gangs.
Bogota’s mayor has blamed criminal gang “Las Paisas” for much of the violence that erupted on the capital’s streets on Thursday, after police clashed with hooded men in the central square, Plaza de Bolivar. The violence across the city resulted in two dead and 200 injured, leading the government to militarize Bogota.
The Marcha Patriotica, one of the organisers of the national strike, recently accused the police of preventing supporters from reaching the strikes in Huila and stigmatizing legitimate protesters.
- Incineran en el Huila camioneta blindada de la Unidad Nacional de Protección (CM & la noticia)
- Manifestantes encapuchados queman vehículos en el Huila (Caracol Radio)
- Encapuchados dinamitaron un puente en el Huila (El Tiempo)