The Ecuadorean army engaged a Colombian “irregular group,” most likely FARC rebels, in a pitched battle that resulted in the deaths of an Ecuadorean officer and five Colombians, again showing the strategic importance of the frontier to illegal actors.
The firefight took place in Ecuador’s border province of Sucumbios, which sits opposite its Colombian counterpart, Putumayo, a major coca growing area (see map below). Ecuadorean security forces had identified an illegal camp, and when they closed in fighting occurred, with the Ecuadorean forces also being engaged from the Colombian side of the border.
The Ecuadorean Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño, requested that the Colombian government step up its presence along the border, to prevent the movement of illegal actors into Ecuador.
InSight Crime Analysis
The “irregular group” that the Ecuadorean authorities referred to is almost certainly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has a strong presence in the border provinces of Putumayo and Nariño, and which has long used Ecuador as a rest area, as well as a major logistics hub. The Southern Bloc of the FARC uses Ecuador to secure supplies, medical support, and a steady stream of explosives, munitions and weapons.
The clash took place not far from where FARC commander Luis Edgar Devia Silva, alias “Raul Reyes,” was killed in an aerial bombardment by the Colombian Air Force in a rebel camp in Sucumbios in March 2008.
This clash with FARC rebels is not an isolated incident. Since the bombing of the camp of Raul Reyes, the Ecuadorean military has increased its patrols along the border, destroying FARC encampments they have found.
Despite claims to the contrary, the FARC maintains a permanent presence in Ecuador, but this presence is increasingly camouflaged, with rebels no longer wearing uniforms and openly carrying weapons, but moving around in civilian dress, and living among the border communities. There have even been suggestions that the rebels are promoting the sowing of drug crops in Ecuador.
While there is the presence of other Colombian illegal groups in Ecuador, most particularly the Rastrojos, this tends to be not in Sucumbios, but the neighboring province of Esmeraldas, which lies on the Pacific coast. Ecuador has become an important transshipment point for Colombian cocaine, with groups like Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel establishing a presence in the country.