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Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 15:25 GMT
Colombia attacks rebels' drug profits
Cocaine fields in Colombia
The guerillas have profited from illegal cocaine trafficking
By Jeremy McDermott in Colombia

The Colombian armed forces are for the first time having success with a new policy aimed at undermining the country's warring factions by attacking their source of income: Illegal drugs.

The Colombian military has been on the defensive for most of the last four decades of civil conflict, as Marxist guerrilla armies have grown to over 20,000 fighters and right-wing paramilitaries to 8,000.

Between them they control up to half of Colombia and their coffers are full, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars earned every year from the drugs trade.

President Andres Pastrana
President Pastrana went to observe the Bolivar offensive

But a new policy announced last year by General Fernando Tapias, the head of the Colombian armed forces, is designed to undermine these illegal armies by destroying drug crops and laboratories protected and sometimes run by guerrillas or paramilitaries.

The plan is backed by the US with over $1bn worth of US military aid.

In the last week the military has announced that 30,000 hectares of coca, the raw material for cocaine, had been fumigated as part of the world's most ambitious aerial eradication programme.

Huge scale

Also in the last week there have been two military operations that have destroyed drug rings of the guerrillas and the right-wing paramilitaries.

Operation Bolivar, in the province of the same name, saw troops of the recently created Rapid Deployment Force move into a paramilitary stronghold of the Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC).

The soldiers decommissioned a drug complex of industrial scale - some five laboratories capable of processing more than a tonne of cocaine every week.

In Operation Black Cat, troops moving in helicopters and fast patrol boats surprised 22 drug dealers in a base by the Brazilian border, where guerrillas of the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, were trading cocaine for arms.

Trafficker's wife captured

Among the seven Brazilians captured was Jacqueline Alcantara de Morais, the wife of Brazil's most wanted drug trafficker.

The army seized over 22,800 weapons and $75,000 in cash during the raid.

So for the first time, the military - flush with US funds and more professional soldiers than ever - has shown a marked offensive capability.

But analysts have cautioned people against believing there is any way the military can destroy the illegal armies of the left and right - and have stated categorically there is no military solution to Colombia's 37-year civil conflict.

The price of coca base, the material refined into cocaine, has risen after the military operation, but not for long.

And experts believe the flow of cocaine, and increasingly heroin, out of Colombia will not be interrupted by the latest actions.

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See also:

05 Feb 01 | Americas
Colombians angry over rebel zone
04 Feb 01 | Americas
Analysis: FARC holds all the cards
23 Jan 01 | Americas
Colombian rebels turn down talks
14 Jan 01 | Americas
Eyewitness: Inside a cocaine factory
13 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Welcome to Farclandia
16 Nov 00 | Americas
Colombia's peace laboratory
19 Feb 01 | Americas
Colombia's city of violence
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