Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

In strategy shift, Colombia to suspend air strikes on armed groups

In strategy shift, Colombia to suspend air strikes on armed groups

Colombia will suspend aerial bombings targeting illegal armed groups in a bid to avoid collateral damage to civilians and deaths of minors who have been forcibly recruited, Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez said on Thursday.
The announcement - which Velasquez said was also a gesture of government willingness to engage in possible talks with armed groups - is a shift in Colombia's strategy against left-wing guerrillas and drug-trafficking gangs.

The country's almost six-decade conflict has killed at least 450,000.

Aerial bombardments in recent years by the military have dealt heavy blows to armed groups such as dissidents of the demobilized FARC who reject a 2016 peace deal, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the organized crime gang Clan del Golfo, killing important leaders.

"The bombings must be suspended. We're going to evaluate the specific moment in which an absolute guideline can be established, but that is the direction we want to take," Velasquez told journalists, stressing that minors forcibly recruited by armed groups are victims of violence.

"Military action that is carried out against members of illegal armed groups cannot endanger the lives of these victims," he added.

Colombia's armed forces have received criticism in recent years from human rights groups and politicians for bombings that killed such minors.

Colombia's new leftist president, Gustavo Petro, is pushing a policy of "total peace" to end the conflict with guerrillas and criminal gangs in exchange for legal benefits and reduced sentences.

Such a policy is not weakness on the part of the state, Velasquez said, adding that Colombia's armed forces and police will continue to fulfill their constitutional roles.

"Peace is not a surrender by the government, it is not a surrender by the armed forces. Peace is a process of collective construction," he said.

The defense ministry is also evaluating the purchase of a new fleet of combat aircraft to replace its aging Israeli-made Kfir planes, Velasquez said.

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