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Colombia boosts security after looting at stores with official ties to FARC

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian armed forces on Wednesday stepped up security after mobs broke windows and stole food at 16 supermarkets in Bogota and other cities that the government said are a front for hiding assets of former FARC rebels.

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Police fired tear gas at hundreds of stone-throwing youths and made numerous arrests following raids on stores that the attorney general’s office said belong to the FARC, now a Marxist political party.

The top prosecutor said on Monday he would confiscate 60 supermarkets as well as houses, livestock and commercial companies valued at $227.8 million that were not declared by the FARC as assets when the group signed a peace accord in late 2016.

The Supercundi supermarket chain was kept in the name of three brothers to hide assets and launder money but is owned by the FARC, the top prosecutor said.

FARC leaders on Wednesday denied any connection to the Supercundi chain and called the accusations “fake news.”

The FARC, once known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, accumulated a considerable fortune from drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion during a long war. It has always denied hiding money and says it has spent almost everything on maintaining its troops and on weapons.

The 7,000-strong group, now the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, promised to hand over all assets to compensate victims of the five-decade war.

Heavily armed police and soldiers with tanks guarded the looted supermarkets and others that remain closed on Wednesday. Stores in Tolima, Quindio, Cundinamarca and Boyaca provinces were looted and 28 people were arrested, according to the police.

“We are adopting measures, because we have information that there are groups of people who are organising themselves through social networks to attack other commercial establishments,” Javier Beltran, a high-level official in Cundinamarca province, where Bogota is located, said on Caracol TV.

The attacks were initially focused on supermarkets but spread to other establishments. Most appear to be acts of vandalism and theft rather than political activism.

Reporting by Helen Murphy, Luis Jaime Acosta and Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe