Members of the Peruvian armed forces continue to sell weapons to Colombian guerrillas, a Peruvian congressman told press, again turning the spotlight on a well worn arms trafficking route which keeps the FARC’s arsenal stocked.
Peruvian legislator Renzo Reggiardo said that the “unacceptable” sale of weapons stolen from army barracks has been going on since 2008. He also had sharp criticism for Judge Jessica León Yarango, who is overseeing the trial of soldiers accused of trafficking arms to the guerrillas. Reggiardo, who has previously accused the magistrate of bias for deciding to prosecute the men for illegal possession but not for terrorism, said that this leniency means that elements in the military are able to continue their illicit deals.
The soldiers were arrested on December 19, 2009, when Peruvian authorities launched an operation in cities across the country, detaining several members of the armed forces and police on suspicion of selling arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). The detainees included Peruvian air force official Jorge Aurelio Cerpa and alleged Ecuadorean FARC operative Freddy Torres Calle, alias “El Perro,” who is accused of receiving the stolen weapons at the Ecuadorean border and transporting them to Colombia.
The arms reportedly included Russian-made heat-seeking ground-to-air missiles. These are a cause of particular concern for Colombia’s security forces, who rely heavily on the use of aircraft to navigate the jungle territory where many FARC camps are located. Emails allegedly found on computer hard drives seized from Luis Edgar Devia, alias “Raul Reyes,” a FARC commander killed by the Colombian army in 2008, revealed that the rebel group had been stepping up attempts to purchase ground-to-air missiles.
In a program that aired Sunday, Peruvian television program “Punto Final” reported that the Peruvian authorities had for several years been investigating armed groups in that country suspected of dealing weapons to the FARC. The breakthrough in the case came when a witness referred to as “CERCO-001” came forward to reveal that army technicians were stealing weapons and ammunition from military bases to sell to the FARC.
CERCO-001 told investigators that the arms were then transported from the bases, located in Peru’s northeast jungle region, to the border with Ecuador. The arms were taken over the border on motorcycle taxis or in backpacks from the town of Aguas Verdes in northern Peru to Huaquillas in Ecuador, where they were received by El Perro.
Further evidence of Peruvians dealing arms to the FARC was reportedly found on the computer drives of late FARC commander Jorge Briceño Suarez, alias “Mono Jojoy.” The Colombian army seized a number of computers and memory sticks from the commander’s camp after the bombing raid that killed him in September 2010, and President Juan Manuel Santos said in January 2011 that these included details of the purchase of weapons in Peru.
“Punto Final” reports that, according to investigations, El Perro was supported by Ecuadorean police. Questions over Ecuador’s attitude to the FARC have long caused tensions between Colombia and its neighbor, as the rebel group is able to pass through the porous border between the two countries to avoid the Colombian armed forces. Matters reached their lowest point in March 2008 when Colombia carried out a bombing raid against a FARC camp in Ecuadorean territory, killing Raul Reyes and triggering a diplomatic crisis between the neighboring countries. Bogota then claimed that computer hard drives found in the camp had linked the government of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to the rebel group. Relations between the two countries have improved in recent months, however, and Ecuador claimed in January 2011 that in the course of the previous year it dismantled 125 FARC camps.
The FARC have a history of buying weapons from Peru. In 1999 the group bought some 10,000 Jordanian rifles in a deal organized by Peru’s then-intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos. In March 2010 El Tiempo reported that further emails on Raul Reyes’ hard drives showed that the FARC were in contact with the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), a Peruvian guerrilla group.
Colombia has also often accused neighboring Venezuela of helping the FARC. In 2009 Colombia claimed that a cache of anti-tank rocket launchers seized from the FARC were originally purchased from Sweden by Venezuela, whose President Hugo Chavez is thought by Bogota to have links with the rebel group. Venezuela’s plan to open a Kalashnikov factory that would produce between 20,000 and 30,000 rifles per year also stirred concerns in the region and from Washington, raising fears that the weapons could end up in the hands of the guerrillas.