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News > Latin America

Operation 'Armageddon': Peru's Biggest Drug Bust In History

  • President Vizcarra supervises an operation against drug trafficking in the jungle border province of Putumayo in Loreto.

    President Vizcarra supervises an operation against drug trafficking in the jungle border province of Putumayo in Loreto. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 July 2018

Hundreds of Peruvian and Colombian military forces bust a narcotrafficking ring in Peru's northern border, arresting over 50 people who claim they're former FARC.

In a surprise military operation, Peru has arrested more than 50 people along its remote border with Colombia as part of a crackdown on drug production and smuggling in the Putumayo region, according to Reuters.

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Peru's President Martin Vizcarra said his military coordinated with Colombia's to carry out 'Operation Armageddon' early Monday when they arrested the group in Peru's Amazon region, where there is little state presence.

"More than 50 people have been arrested, the vast majority Colombian nationals who were involved in illegal drug trafficking," Vizcarra said in a televised statement from Putumayo.

Peru’s national media states that 51 were arrested, 41 of whom were Colombian.

Officials also confiscated equipment from four laboratories that were used to process cocaine. They found lime, coca leaves, 15 gallons of cocaine sulfate, 20 packets of marijuana and motors, among other equipment, according to Interior Minister Mauro Medina.

Photos of the operation show Peru's military carrying away a confiscated refrigerator from one of the labs. Reuters reports the suspects are former Marxist FARC rebels who have taken refuge in the area.

The president decreed a state of emergency for the province of Putumayo, located at the border with Colombia and Ecuador. It was put in place on Monday and will last for 60 days.

Photos from national media show the suspects handcuffed and sitting on the ground in an area cleared of forest and surrounded by military members.

The president, several ministers and more than 350 Peruvian security forces flew into the region in five helicopters, three planes and two patrol boats.

Medina said this was the first time Peru has made such an operation at its northern border, and that it was the country's biggest drug bust.

"Since we learned that this region of the Peruvian jungle at the Putumayo border has security problems due to the incursion of citizens from Colombia and Ecuador, it was determined that the presence of the State was necessary," President Vizcarra told the media.

"The province was declared a state of emergency to guarantee correct police and military action."

Approximately 1,200 rebels for the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) still maintain arms and narcotrafficking, even after the 2016 peace agreement with the Colombian government, according to Colombia's Defense Ministry.

Last May, guerrillas distributed pamphlets in the area along Peru's border, which were seen by Reuters, calling on Putumayo to welcome them and join their forces.

"We are not a group of criminals or drug traffickers as they call us. We are FARC rebels," read the leaflet. "We ask for financial support from the mayor ... and we call on the youth to join our ranks."

It said Peru's military should maintain "our good ties" to avoid reprisals.

Representatives for the FARC could not be reached for comment by Reuters.

"We're going to defend our sovereignty, our territory, and we're going to use force to do so," minister of defense Jose Huerta said.

Putumayo provincial governor, Segundo Julca, said the initiative was aimed at resisting the presence of dissident FARC members.

He reported that rebels are recruiting impoverished farmers to grow the lucrative coca plant.

"The Colombian military carries out a lot of patrols. The Peruvian side offers more security. They can grow coca easier," Julca said.

Peru’s president pledged to change that trend.

"I, as President of the Republic, have noted the situation of abandonment in Peru’s jungles at the borders. I commit to having the state present, with the strength and development that is required to achieve the progress of the Peruvians living here," said Vizcarra.

The major bust in collaboration with Colombia comes weeks before rightwing President-Elect Ivan Duque takes office. Two of the detained were injured. The group is being charged with drug trafficking and was taken to the city of Juliaca.

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