BOGOTA (Reuters) – New peace talks with Colombia’s insurgency have not stalled the country’s offensives against armed groups, drug traffickers and illegal miners, two senior officials said on Wednesday.
“We have not ceased military operations against the different persistent threats attacking the civilian population,” the head of Colombia’s Military Forces, General Helder Giraldo, said during a news conference.
The message comes after President Gustavo Petro’s government began peace talks this week with the leftist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).
Petro took office in August as Colombia’s first ever left-wing president with a promise to fight poverty and end violence that has lasted for six decades. The armed conflict left at least 450,000 dead between 1985 and 2018, according to data from the country’s truth commission.
Colombia’s political opposition accuse Petro, a former member of the M-19 insurgency, of neglecting security and reducing pressure on illegal armed groups.
But “the fact that they (the government and ELN) are at this moment in the peace talks does not mean a lowering of guard or fewer actions,” Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez said during a press conference with Giraldo.
Since Petro’s inauguration on Aug. 7, there have been over ninety clashes with armed groups, one per day, resulting in the detention of 3,816 combatants and 23 deaths, Giraldo said.
In the three months of the current government, eight soldiers have died and 40 injured, while 107 tonnes of cocaine have been confiscated, the official added.
The military and national police are taking action against armed groups to target their earnings from the drug trade – considered by analysts and sources as the main fuel of the conflict – as well as from illegal gold mining, Velasquez said.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)
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