February 24, 2011 / 6:33 PM / 9 years ago

Colombia crime gangs spur more massacres in '10: U.N.

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian criminal bands linked to former paramilitary groups drove a 40 percent rise in massacres in 2010, slaughtering human rights activists, public officials and civilians, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The Andean nation is the world’s No. 1 cocaine producer, and multiple illegal armed groups are all engaged in the drug trade — including demobilized, former members of Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary groups.

New criminal bands, known by their Spanish acronym “Bacrim,” are widely seen as the new, emerging threat in Colombia, and sprung up to fill the void left by the traditional cartels dismantled by a U.S.-backed drug war.

“There was a rise in massacres by 40 percent last year although (the criminal gangs) weren’t the only ones, they had a lot to do with it,” said Christian Salazar, representative for the U.N. human rights office in Colombia.

“In addition, these groups have the power to corrupt and infiltrate the state ... these groups are a strong threat to the rule of law,” Salazar told reporters.

The U.N. rights office, citing government figures, said at least 179 people were massacred in 38 different incidents last year compared with 139 people in 27 massacres in 2009.

U.S. authorities say they are trying to crack down on criminal gangs in Colombia that are running cocaine to Mexican drug kingpins who are at war with Mexico’s security forces.

The six main Colombian criminal gangs are usually alliances of former members of outlawed paramilitary groups who began a demobilization process in 2003 and remnants of the traditional crime syndicates.

Reporting by Jack Kimball; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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