Conflicts & War

Colombia busts extortion ring linked to FARC renegades

Bogota, Nov 22 (EFE).- The Colombian Attorney General’s office announced Tuesday the arrest of five people connected to a dissident faction of the disbanded FARC guerrilla group on charges of operating an extortion ring in the province of Norte de Santander.

The victims were mainly merchants, trucking companies and miners along the border with Venezuela, the AG Office said in a statement, adding that the ring planted bombs and set vehicles on fire to put pressure on business-owners to pay up.

Prosecutors said that proceeds of the criminal activity went to Front 33, a unit comprising members of the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who refused to demobilize following the November 2016 peace agreement with the government.

On Oct. 4, according to the AG Office, the five defendants tried to bully a man into signing a document handing over title to a mine in exchange for an ostensible payment of 300 million pesos ($61,000).

“The owner of the property did not accede to the request and for several days, armed individuals threatened him in his place of residence,” the statement said.

Ring-leader Pedro Antonio Franco Rodriguez, alias “El Viejo” (The Old Man) selected the victims and “in some cases, summoned them to the camps of the dissidents in the border zone to increase the level of intimidation.”

“The evidence shows that he maintained direct contact with alias ‘Jhon Mechas’ (Front 33 commander) and other commanders to provide them with logistical support and report to them about the money obtained,” the AG Office said.

Word of the arrests came hours after armed men set five freight trucks ablaze on one of the main highways in Norte de Santander.

The assailants, dressed in Colombian army uniforms, intercepted the vehicles on a stretch of highway between Cucuta, the provincial capital, and Ocaña, the region’s second-largest city.

The drivers said the attackers forced them to pull over and get out of the trucks before torching the vehicles and fleeing into the mountains. EFE jga/dr

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