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Military deployed to protect Colombian school children

Government responds to mafia threats with show of military force

Military deployed to protect Colombian school children


By Richard McColl

BOGOTA, Colombia

Soldiers were deployed Monday to parts of northern Colombia to combat violence and threats from a paramilitary group that imposed a 48-hour blockade of the area.

Forty towns in 15 departments were paralyzed economically as business owners and schools were threatened should they open during the blockade that also resulted in the deaths of nine policemen.

“Colombia has never before given in to criminals using acts of violence like this,” said President Juan Manuel Santos during a press conference.

“We will continue strike at their criminal structures until they understand that there is no alternative than to surrender to Colombian justice,” he added.

The Usaga Clan, an off-shoot of former right-wing paramilitary groups formed to combat the country’s leftist guerrillas and which nominally demobilized in 2006, number an estimated 3,000 fighters and receives its income from drugs trafficking, illegal mining and extortion.

The Saturday and Sunday blockade was a show of force by the group in response to a recent military bombing campaign of the Usaga Clan camps and also are an attempt to pressure the government into peace talks – a move resisted by Santos who said the outfit is considered a criminal gang.

“In the last 72 hours, the police have captured 59 criminals from this gang with the help of the Attorney General’s Office,” Santos said. “Amongst the captured are some incredibly dangerous subjects who are criminals and will no longer continue threatening our countrymen.”

With the demobilization of the original paramilitary groups, the Usaga Clan filled the vacuum left behind and increased its influence.

The group recently moved into areas formerly controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that is currently in peace negotiations with the government.

Juan Carlos Ruiz, a political scientist told El Tiempo newspaper that “these criminal groups hold great power and influence to terrorize the population and keep the local authorities and police at bay.”

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