The bodies of 13 people are found in Palmarito, outside the city of Cúcuta, and across the border in Venezuela. The massacre is believed to be the result of fighting between the ELN and the Rastrojos—the remnant of a once much stronger post-paramilitary group—for control of cross-border smuggling routes. “The most conservative estimates,” Semanareports, “say that this war has left 37 dead in recent months.”
Fighting between the Gulf Clan and dissidents from the FARC’s 18th Front displaces 863 people in the rural zone of Ituango, Antioquia, which lies on a strategic trafficking route. Some say they were given ten minutes to leave their homes on pain of death.
Intelligence sources tellEl Colombiano that the displacement is a tactic that armed groups use when they are in a position of weakness. “The people in the 18th Front residual group are surrounded by Gulf Clan personnel. So they pressure the communities to displace the that automatically obligates the Army to mobilize its troops, avoiding the other group’s advance.
Earlier in the month, the entire remaining population of the Santa Lucía FARC demobilization site (ETCR) in Ituango—62 former fighters and 45 relatives—decided to abandon the site within 60 days due to threats. Twelve former FARC members have been killed in Ituango, more than any other municipality. Departmental and national government agencies are discussing options with the ETCR’s residents.
The Army’s 7th Division reports on January 30 that it had learned of a plot by FARC dissident groups to assassinate ex-guerrillas living at the Santa Lucía facility.
Alarm grows over environmental damage wrought by armed groups. FARC dissidents are believed responsible for a fire in La Macarena National Park, near the popular Caño Cristales tourist destination.
FARC dissidents, some from the “Carolina Ramírez Front,” threaten park rangers in Chiribiquete National Park in Caquetá, ordering them to leave. Similar threats occur in as many as nine other parks. More than 9 million hectares of parks in Colombia’s Amazon basin region lack official presence.
Security forces believe the dissidents intend to expand coca cultivation in the parks. They contend that the groups’ actions are a response to “Operation Artemis,” a military operation that aims to curtail deforestation.
Chocó-based ELN commander “Uriel” announces on social media that the guerrilla group has declared a new nationwide “armed strike,” prohibiting vehicle travel between February 14 and 17.
Most of the country is unaffected by the armed strike, but travel grinds to a halt in areas where the guerrillas have strong influence, like Arauca and Catatumbo. According to InsightCrime, “Colombia saw at least 27 operations by the ELN around the country, including attacks on electrical infrastructure, clashes with the Colombian Army, closures of national highways due to bomb threats, explosive devices left in cities, one sniper attack, as well as numerous graffitis and flags hailing the group.”
While visiting Montelíbano, Córdoba on February 13, President Duque responds, “Colombia is united to confront this criminal group, this terrorist group, these recruiters of minors, these eco-killers.”
The Defendamos la Paz civil-society coalition issues a statement rejecting the ELN’s announcement, contending that “the time for war has passed.”
In Medellín, where the ELN was believed responsible for the recent downing of an electrical pylon on the city’s outskirts, authorities reactivated an 80-man Army Special Urban Forces Battalion.
Afterward, the ELN issues a communiqué justifying its actions but apologizing for “discomforts caused.”
“What we saw last weekend wasn’t a strike, but a threat to the tranquility of some regions of the country,” High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos says on February 18.
High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos says that Colombia will ask for a delay of its commitment to the Ottawa Landmine Treaty, extending the original goal of demining the country by 2021. This is in part due to an increase in use of landmines by armed groups, with more victims in 2019 than 2018.