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'Urabeños Now Have More Members Than ELN'

A poster of Colombia's most wanted criminals A poster of Colombia's most wanted criminals

Colombian authorities say that criminal group the Urabeños now has more members than the country's second-largest guerrilla organization the National Liberation Army (ELN), highlighting the Urabeños' successful expansion.

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Colombia's Integrated Intelligence Center said that while guerrilla organization the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the ELN -- along with criminal bands such as the Rastrojos and the ERPAC -- lost members over the past year, the Urabeños had gone up in numbers from 1,970 to 2,366, reported El Tiempo.

According to police, this was not a result of increased recruitment, but reflects how the Urabeños have successfully absorbed members from rival gangs such as the Rastrojos or the Machos, following the capture of the leaders of these organizations.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Urabeños have pursued a strategy of aggressive expansion, aiming to control more of Colombia's major export points for cocaine. They have sought to absorb or buy off rivals from weaker criminal organizations, aided by their significant financial resources and their military background and equipment, which heightens their appeal to smaller groups as well as ensuring discipline within their own ranks.

According to comments made by President Juan Manuel Santos last month, the Urabeños are now the only one of Colombia's new generation criminal groups (known as BACRIM) which still has a national presence. Think-thank Nuevo Arco Iris has argued that the overall number of criminal gangs has dropped in Colombia because smaller organizations have been absorbed into the Rastrojos and the Urabeños. However, the Rastrojos were seriously weakened over the course of 2012 whereas the Urabeños, as indicated by this latest report, have continued to grow in reach and numbers.

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