Panama’s border police have killed two alleged FARC members in combat near the border with Colombia, a dense jungle region where security forces from both countries have been coordinating to confront the guerrilla group’s 57th Front and drug trafficking activity.
Frank Abrego, the director of Panama’s border police body (SENAFRONT), announced that beginning at 9 AM on July 13, there were two exchanges of fire between a SENAFRONT patrol and six armed men believed to be members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the Guna Yala jungle region, reported Critica. Two of the armed men were killed in the first shootout, and two were arrested during the second round of shooting.
During the operation, security forces seized one M-16 rifle and one AK-47 assault rifle, as well as a shotgun and a pistol.
That same day, SENAFRONT sent a large armed contingent to provide reinforcements in the area.
This was reportedly the fourth such confrontation this year in the Colombian border region.
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The FARC’s 57th Front has long had a presence on both sides of the Colombia-Panama border in the heavily forested and inhospitable region known as the Darien Gap. Seizure patterns in recent years have indicated Panama is becoming an increasingly important drug transit country, and the 57th Front serves as a vital link in the trafficking chain. The group is known to collaborate with Colombia’s Urabeños and Mexican cartels in smuggling drugs and weapons across the border.
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The challenges posed by the 57th Front and the nature of the territory have led Panamanian and Colombian security forces to undertake joint operations, and in June 2013 they agreed to establish a joint base of operations in the border region.
The most recent incident, coupled with the previous use of lethal force this year, suggests the country may be adopting the more aggressive approach of its Colombian counterparts.
In the face of security force efforts, the 57th Front has taken some significant hits, with then-leader Virgilio Antonio Vidal Mora, alias “Silver,” killed by a Colombian Air Force raid in August 2013, and two other alleged commanders reportedly killed in December. However, the Panamanian government is still far from completely ridding the country of a FARC presence, as former President Ricardo Martinelli claimed to have done.
While security force efforts have likely impacted the group’s operations in the region and may make the trafficking of drugs through the region more difficult, it would be virtually impossible to completely shut down routes or push the group out of such a geographically complicated region as the Darien.