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Colombia intends to “irreversibly” defeat a four-decade-old insurgency during an expected second term for President Alvaro Uribe, the country’s top defence official said.
A sustained US-backed military offensive during the past three years has pushed drugs-financed guerrillas from the 15,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, away from big cities and deep into the remote southern jungles.
Camilo Ospina, the defence minister, said that, if the counter-insurgency effort was maintained, Colombian troops could crush Latin America’s longest-running rebel army.
“The priority will be to conclude the process of submission of the guerrillas,” Mr Ospina said in an interview with the FT. “Farc have lost their militia in urban areas, they are now concentrated out there in the jungle. But government forces are nowadays also familiar with those areas. We will be entering the final phase of Farc’s submission.”
Security has improved dramatically under Mr Uribe, whose “Democratic Security” policy has seen a 25 per cent increase in the number of military and police personnel to 370,000. According to official data, the number of “terrorist” acts dropped from 1,645 in 2002 to 611 last year, a decline of 63 per cent. In 2005, police recorded 758 kidnappings, 47 per cent fewer than in 2004.
Better security is the main reason why a majority of Colombians are expected to re-elect Mr Uribe on May 28 for another four-year term. A survey released last month by Invamar Gallup found that 56 per cent of voters plan to vote for the president, down from about 70 per cent a year ago but still enough to secure victory. He must win more than 50 per cent to avoid a second round.
Mr Uribe’s re-election would be well received by the Bush administration, which sees Colombia as an important ally in a region increasingly under the influence of radical nationalist governments, such as that of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.
Mr Ospina said the government was studying a follow-up to Plan Colombia, the US-backed programme that has seen $3.5bn (€2.7bn, £1.9bn) in mostly counter-narcotics aid pumped into Colombia over the past five years.
Despite a reduction in crops of coca, the raw material from which cocaine is made, Colombia remains the world’s top producer of the drug. Experts say economic alternatives for farmers are needed if gains are to be sustained. “The Colombian conflict is in reality a war against the drugs trafficking industry,” said Mr Ospina.
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