Colombia to launch commando unit tackling Venezuela-based rebels

·2-min read
Colombia President Ivan Duque (center) traveling in a military convoy alongside Defense Mnister Diego Molano (left)

Colombia President Ivan Duque announced on Monday the creation of a new elite commando unit to fight Marxist rebels and drug-traffickers that seek refuge in neighboring Venezuela.

Duque told Radio Nacional the country would launch the Specialist Commando against Drug-trafficking and Transnational Threats on February 26 and be "fully operational" in May.

He said the "aim for this year is to strike at the heads of narcoterrorism."

He specifically mentioned the likes of Ivan Marquez and Jesus Santrich, two former leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who initially joined the historic 2016 peace process that turned the Marxist rebels into a political party before fleeing to join dissident ranks in 2019.

Duque also named leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN), recognized as the last remaining active guerrilla movement in the country, and the Clan del Golfo drug-trafficking cartel.

"Obviously many of them are protected in Venezuela," he said, claiming President Nicolas Maduro left them free to "conduct drug-trafficking operations."

According to military intelligence, there are 1,400 members of Colombian armed groups operating in Venezuela and moving freely across the poorly controlled 2,200-kilometer (1,300 mile) border between the South American neighbors.

"Here there is no refuge. Wherever the criminals want to be there must be justice," said Duque.

He announced a system of collaboration and reward for anyone in Venezuela "prepared to supply us with information to capture these shameless people."

Duque didn't mention direct military action on Venezuelan territory.

In 2008, Colombia executed a FARC leader on Ecuadorian soil, sparking a serious diplomatic crisis with Quito, whose president at the time, Rafael Correa, was a socialist ally of Venezuela's.

Despite the 2016 peace accord, Colombia continues to battle a multi-faceted armed conflict involving leftist guerrillas, drug-traffickers and right-wing paramilitaries competing for control of the lucrative cocaine and illegal mineral extraction industries.

Colombia has repeatedly accused Venezuela of providing refuge to armed groups, which Caracas denies.