Colombia authorizes air raids against dissident FARC, crime gangs

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s armed forces have been authorized to launch air raids against crime gangs and FARC members who have refused to adhere to a peace accord with the former guerilla group and instead chose to continue drug trafficking and other criminal activity, the Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

As many as 1,000 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have not abided by the terms of last year’s peace agreement with the government, preferring instead to remain armed, fight the government and profit from illegal drugs and mining.

The conflict killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 1964.

The executive order allows troops to conduct bomb attacks against FARC dissidents and crime gangs from airplanes and helicopters, and shields the military from criminal prosecution, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Raids can only be carried out if civilians are not close by.

Air raids were the most effective weapon in the government’s fight against the FARC, pushing fighters deep into inhospitable jungle and killing high-level rebel commanders.

That strategy also has been used against the National Liberation Army (ELN), now the biggest active guerrilla group in Colombia, which is in peace talks with the government. The two sides began a bilateral ceasefire in October.

More than 11,300 members of the FARC, including fighters, urban militia and prisoners are in the process of being incorporated into society after the group handed in its weapons to the United Nations and formed a political party.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Jonathan Oatis