Panama City, May 31 (EFE).- Three presumed attackers of undocumented migrants in the Darien jungle, the dangerous frontier zone between Panama and Colombia, died in a shootout with Panamanian special forces agents, the director of Panama’s National Border Service (Senafront), Oriel Ortega, reported Wednesday.
The incident occurred last Sunday some 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the community of Bajo Chiquito, the first town on the Panamanian side of the border at which thousands of undocumented migrants arrive after traversing the jungle while trekking toward Mexico and, ultimately, the United States.
A patrol of the Senafront Special Forces Brigade was alerted to the presence of the alleged attackers, a group of about nine armed men dressed in black, who had “stripped (migrants) of their belongings,” and began tracking them.
The alleged criminal group opened fire when they spotted the Special Forces agents, who returned fire leaving three of the attackers dead, the head of the Panamanian border police said.
The dead “had indigenous features and we have to verify if they are Panamanians or of Colombian nationality,” said the Senafront chief, who added that the dead were found to be in possession of $100 bills, mobile phones and other items that are thought to have been stolen from migrants.
“The most probable thing is that someone (among their robbery victims) recognized them after the fact” and then reported it to Panamanian authorities, Ortega said.
The Darien jungle that divides Panama and Colombia is used by undocumented migrants from all over the world as a route to North America, many of them being “guided” – and often robbed, exploited, raped or even killed – by people traffickers along the way.
It is a very dangerous area, since migrants often die there amid the severe and wild natural surroundings or at the hands of local criminal groups, travelers who have crossed through the zone say.
The Americas is experiencing an unprecedented migration crisis with thousands of people traveling without the proper documents toward the US. More than 157,000 people have crossed the Darien so far this year, a figure exceeding the roughly 109,300 who did so between 2010 and 2019 and almost five times the more than 33,800 who did so during the first five months of 2022.
Earlier in May, the US changed its immigration policy in an attempt to stem the growing flood of migrants seeking asylum there.