BOGOTA – A total of 1,937 suspected members of the new militia groups linked to drug trafficking have been arrested this year, the Colombian National Police said on Monday.
Some 668 of the suspects belonged to Los Rastrojos, a criminal organization created several years ago by Wilber Varela, who was killed in Venezuela in January 2008.
Another 533 suspects belonged to a criminal organization that operates in the strife-torn northwestern region of Uraba, while 464 others were members of Los Paisas, the National Police said.
The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, militia federation, accused of committing numerous human rights violations, demobilized more than 31,000 of its fighters between the end of 2003 and mid-2006 as part of the peace process with President Alvaro Uribe’s administration.
New paramilitary groups have taken over the smuggling routes and organizations of the defunct AUC militia federation’s leaders, the majority of whom were extradited to the United States to face trial on drug charges.
Police seized nearly 1,100 firearms, more than 70,000 rounds of ammunition and 631 grenades from these criminal organizations between Jan. 1 and Dec. 12.
Operations targeting the groups yielded 97 tons of cocaine, 168 tons of marijuana and 574 kilos of heroin, and resulted in the destruction of more than 100 illegal drug labs.
Colombia’s new militias have at least 4,000 fighters, a large number of them members of the AUC, the Bogota daily El Tiempo reported over the summer, citing an estimate by the National Police.
Authorities told the newspaper that Los Rastrojos and the Los Paisas, Nueva Generacion, Renacer and Magdalena Medio groups “have nearly 4,000 men” and are responsible for a good deal of the criminal activity in the country.
The independent Fundacion Nuevo Arco Iris, however, has information on 82 criminal organizations in its files that have a presence in 273 cities and could have 10,000 armed men.
Only about 42 percent of the criminal activities of these gangs are related to drug trafficking, Fundacion Nuevo Arco Iris said.
“The other 58 percent has to do with extortion, stealing land and the most serious, common crime in the streets of the big cities,” the foundation said.
Fundacion Nuevo Arco Iris said it determined that the emerging paramilitary groups have a total of 10,000 fighters in their ranks, “of whom 5,000 are demobilized (militiamen) who have returned to crime.” EFE