Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia to send jets against criminal gangs

This handout picture released by the Colombian Defence Ministry's press office shows Colombia's Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas (C) and the Police and Armed Forces commanders on 1 April Image copyright AFP
Image caption Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas (C) declared a major escalation against "organised armed groups"

The Colombian government says it will launch air raids against gangs involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining.

Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said the full force of the state, including the military, would be used to fight them.

The gangs emerged from right-wing paramilitary squads disbanded under the last government of Alvaro Uribe, in office until five years ago.

Officials say there are three criminal gangs with about 3,000 members.

Air raids against left-wing Farc - country's largest rebel group - are currently suspended, as peace talks continue in an effort to end five decades of conflict.

"This will allow the application of the entire force of the state, without exception, against organised armed groups, against powerful mafias," Mr Villegas said.

The new strategy specifically targets three groups - the Clan Usuga, Los Pelusos and Los Puntilleros.

Clan Usuga, is the largest and is accused of trafficking cocaine to Central America and on to the US.

The Los Pelusos gang has strong links with the powerful Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. Los Puntilleros are involved in trafficking in Colombia's Catatumbo region.

Analysts say the decision to militarise the fight against organised crime marks a sharp turn in strategy as the government is nearing a peace deal with the Farc.

Air raids have been the most powerful military strategy against guerrilla groups and led to the deaths of many of their most feared commanders.

President Juan Manuel Santos said earlier this week that the US was providing intelligence to help fight criminal gangs.

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