Killings sig­nal new stage in con­flict

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Manuel Rueda Manuel Rueda is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

BOGOTA, Colom­bia — Jose Manuel Man­cilla was tak­ing a break from his job at a lo­cal gold mine. So on Sun­day he gath­ered with friends at a hill­side home in his vil­lage of Munchique, where about 20 peo­ple were drink­ing and stag­ing cock­fights.

The 19­year­old’s life ended abruptly when hooded men be­gan to shoot at the im­pro­vised cock­fight­ing arena with ma­chine guns and threw at least two grenades at the ter­ri­fied crowd. Six men in all, ages 16 to 28, lost their lives dur­ing the at­tack on the western Colom­bian vil­lage, which is sur­rounded by small gold mines and coca fields.

Hours later, four peo­ple were killed in a sim­i­lar at­tack in Colom­bia’s south­ern prov­ince of Narino. Video shared on so­cial me­dia showed men with as­sault ri­fles shoot­ing at corpses float­ing on a pond.

“With all that has been hap­pen­ing in Colom­bia it’s hard to ex­pect any jus­tice for these crimes,” said Edil­son Adrono, a town coun­cil mem­ber in Munchique who lost two cousins in that town’s mas­sacre. “We’ve been left alone here, as if we didn’t ex­ist on the map.”

Alarms are sound­ing in Colom­bia over a ris­ing tide of vi­o­lence. More than 230 peo­ple have been slain in mas­sacres this year.

The deaths sig­nal a new chap­ter in the coun­try’s long his­tory of blood­shed. Rather than the pre­vi­ous na­tional dis­pute be­tween guer­ril­las and the state, vi­o­lence in ru­ral Colom­bia is now marked by a patch­work of lo­cal feuds be­tween crim­i­nal groups that fight over drug routes, il­le­gal mines and even gaso­line smug­gling routes.

These groups are less ide­o­log­i­cal than the left­ist guer­ril­las of the Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia, a move­ment known as the FARC that made peace with the govern­ment in 2016 af­ter five decades of con­flict that killed 250,000 peo­ple and chased mil­lions from their homes.

The new groups can be just as vi­o­lent, how­ever.

“There is less di­rect con­fronta­tion now be­tween armed groups and the govern­ment,” said Juan Car­los Gar­zon, an ex­pert on Colom­bia’s con­flict at the Ideas for Peace Foun­da­tion. “But what you see are many at­tacks against civil­ians who are per­ceived to be part of the sup­port struc­ture of a ri­val group.”

Gar­zon said this strug­gle for ter­ri­to­rial con­trol could ex­plain Sun­day’s at­tack at the Munchique cock­fight­ing arena. No sus­pects have yet been cap­tured.

The vil­lage lies in a cor­ri­dor that con­nects coca fields in Colom­bia’s cen­tral moun­tain range with the Pa­cific Ocean, where co­caine is loaded onto fast boats that take the drug to Cen­tral Amer­ica and Mex­ico.

Drug traf­fick­ing groups like the Gulf Clan and rebel groups led by for­mer FARC mem­bers who did not sign the peace deal op­er­ate around the vil­lage of Munchique and else­where in Cauca state.

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