The armed onslaught began at around 10pm Tuesday night and continued until around 4.00 am Wednesday morning, attacking the police headquarters in Corinto from their base in the municipal park. Many inhabitants could not sleep, frightened by the sound of bullets, reported Caracol TV.
“These bandits were attacking the troops with the goal of reducing the pressure in the village of La Cundera, which is their base,” said Colonel Wilson Cabra of the Third Army Brigade.
Army units, supported by the Air Force, are hunting down the rebels responsible for the harassment. The police, meanwhile, are conducting patrols in the downtown area to ensure safety.
In recent months the FARC have conducted numerous attacks in Cauca. On 18 October rebels attacked the town of Toribío, killed one soldier and injuring an indigenous civilian. This weekend between the towns of Corinth and Toribio, the Army battled a guerrilla column. Six soldiers and an undetermined number of rebels were killed.
Weekly magazine Semana reported that there are three simultaneous processes shaping the armed conflict in the Cauca department at present: First, the alliance between the ELN and the ‘Los Rastrojos‘ gang to fight the FARC. Secondly, military forces need to find a new way to fight the ELN and ‘Los Rastrojos’, because so far the entire offensive has been directed against the FARC, and in fact has succeeded in dismantling two FARC fronts in the region. The third process is the strengthening of the FARC’s hold in the north of Cauca.
The guerrillas have harassed the municipality of Toribio on 51 occasions so far this year, and in Caldono, they have attacked the village of Siberia on eight occasions this year, most recently on 9 October.
The situation is so severe in some parts of Cauca that people have begun mass movements away from their homes. 33 per cent of early warnings of forced displacement by the conflict are for the Cauca region. 45 per cent of Cauca residents are at some level of risk of having to flee.
Although rural residents agree that the behavior of the security forces in the area has improved substantially compared with previous years, there continue to be abuses. On September 18 as was usual, parents took their children to the Family Welfare in the village of Palmito in the Piedmont municipality. At 9.10 am, three Army helicopters flew over the building, strafing the area. One of the shots shattered the leg of a two and a half year old toddler.
The shooting was indiscriminate and unwarranted, as rebels had not been recently seen in the area. No one has been able to explain what prompted the military to take such action, nor how it was approved. The child was moved to a military hospital in Bogota, where her leg was amputated.
The Army claims that there was no bombing on that date, but a guerrilla attack. However, researchers at the Nuevo Arco Iris Corporation in the area have heard several allegations of indiscriminate bombing and strafing by the armed forces, so far without explanation.
Furthermore, FARC guerrillas have been retaliating against the civilian population, accusing them of helping the ELN and ‘Los Rastrojos’ in their attempts to dismantle FARC fronts. And while the armed forces were fighting the FARC, ‘Los Rastrojos’ moved into Plateado village and likewise committed reprisals against the community.
In some municipalities, however, villagers have organized to protect themselves against attacks by armed groups. The village of Lerma in the municipality of Bolivar saw almost one hundred deaths in the 1980s due to the coca boom. But in 1991 the community began a process of social organization, maintaining their autonomy from the illegal factions, winning an award for best organized community in Colombia.
A similar situation occurs in the village of Almaguer, which has suffered 12 guerrilla attacks and was practically destroyed on several occasions. Without official help, its inhabitants organized bazaars and festivals, rebuilt the church and a number of homes, and has become a local role model of strength and courage.