Colombia: 180 soldiers released by disgruntled coca farmers

Was it a kidnapping, a hostage-taking? It is difficult to define the situation with precision, but the 180 or so soldiers tasked with eradicating coca plantations and detained since Tuesday by disgruntled farmers in eastern Colombia have finally been released, announced Thursday (October 28th).

There have been “A unilateral initiative of the communities who have withdrawn from the area and do not hinder the work of the security forces”, said Thursday, October 28, the office of the Defender of the People in a statement.

The public body which monitors respect for human rights in the country, had earlier announced the dispatch of a mediation mission to the municipality of Tibu (northeast of the country), in the department of Norte de Santander, where the soldiers had been held since Tuesday in a school.

“No form of violence”

The farmers have left the school site, journalists from Agence France-Presse noted. “The army has not been the victim of any form of violence or kidnapping”, the growers said in a statement.

The President of the Republic of Colombia, Ivan Duque, had earlier called for the ” quick release “ soldiers. “They are fine, they are with their weapons. They did not want to engage in the confrontation and it shows their professionalism (…), but these practices cannot take place in the country ”, declared the head of state to the press. “If there is no quick release, it will be considered a kidnapping by all the authorities”, he warned.

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Clashes are frequent in Colombia between coca producers and the police responsible for destroying these crops.

General Omar Sepulveda, in charge of military operations in the area, said the soldiers were surrounded on Tuesday by cultivators armed with sticks and machetes as they carried out “Tasks of combating the entire chain of drug trafficking”.

World’s largest exporter of cocaine

The spokesperson for a farmers’ association, who identified himself as « Junior », told a local radio station that he was in “The best arrangements for initiating a dialogue”. According to him, the coca growers intend to protest against the government, which has not respected its commitments as part of a program to replace the cultivation of coca leaves by licit agriculture.

The Catatumbo region, where the village of Tibu is located, on the border with Venezuela, contains the largest concentration of coca cultivation in the world (40,084 hectares), according to the latest United Nations report in 2020.

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The rebels of the National Liberation Army, the last active guerrilla in Colombia, and the ex-guerrilla dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia opposed to the 2016 peace agreement, operate in this region and profit from the revenues drug trafficking.

With a record production of 1,010 tonnes in 2020, Colombia remains the world’s leading exporter of cocaine, mainly to the United States, the main consumer.

The World with AFP

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Colombia: 180 soldiers released by disgruntled coca farmers