Colombia has deployed thousands of troops to a restive region in the country’s north near the border with Venezuela in a declared attempt to bolster government control of the area, which is a hotspot of activity by criminal groups and drug traffickers.
Colombian President Ivan Duque announced on Wednesday that 14,000 soldiers had been stationed in the northeastern province of Norte de Santander, where multiple armed groups compete for control of cocaine production, marking the largest deployment in the country’s recent history.
Duque said the new unit’s mission would be to combat drug trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime funding.
The new unit will also purportedly confront armed groups from Colombia’s last remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and dissident FARC guerrillas, who have rejected a 2016 peace deal with the government, as well as criminal groups, including the Clan del Gulfo, which compete to control crops of coca, the chief ingredient of cocaine.
According to the Colombian government, the deployment would be accompanied by investments to tackle poverty and substitution and eradication programs to eliminate illegal crops.
Norte de Santander is one of Colombia’s most volatile regions and the site of recent high-profile attacks. Back in June, a car bomb explosion hit a military base in the province’s capital, Cucuta, wounding at least 36 people.
Violence has recently increased in Colombia, driven by an estimated 2,500 opposition fighters from the FARC fighting over drug trafficking routes and illegal mining locations with the ELN and other militant groups.
Duque has long accused Venezuela of offering support and refuge to illegal Colombian armed groups. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has rejected that accusation.
“We need to make sure there is no collusion… in the border region to sponsor drug trafficking and other international crime,” Duque said in his Wednesday remarks.
Venezuela and Colombia, which share a 2,200-kilometer border, have not had diplomatic ties since 2019, when Colombia joined the United States and other countries in rejecting Maduro’s 2018 reelection.
On Tuesday, Venezuela said it would reopen its border with Colombia, after more than two years of closure, in an effort to “turn the page” in trade relations with Bogota.