A hybrid military-police task force has been put in charge of providing security in Honduras’ embattled northern province of Colon, home to strategic drug smuggling corridors and a violent land conflict.
The Xatruch III Task Force, comprised of both military and law enforcement elements, assumed control over security in Colon on August 15, Proceso reports. Daniel Molina, official spokesperson for the task force, said that the operation involves the deployment of an unspecified number of additional security forces to the area.
According to Molina, the task force is the brainchild of Honduras’ controversial new National Police commander, Juan Carlos Bonilla. It will be led by national police commissioner Leonel Armando Alvarado.
VIolence in the region has drawn the attention of Honduran lawmakers, who passed a law recently banning the public possession of firearms there.
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Colon is an important corridor for drug flights entering and leaving the country, and its roughly 150 kilometers of coastline along the Caribbean are frequented by go-fast boats transporting large amounts of cocaine.
The province is also the site of a land struggle between small farmers and large land owners in the Bajo Aguan region. Human rights groups accuse private security guards and local police of waging a violent campaign against activists and small farmers there. At least 55 people have been killed, mostly farmers, in Bajo Aguan since 2009 as a result of the violence.
Because police have been implicated as a party in the conflict, it is not clear whether the presence of more security forces will bring down violence in Colon. In reference to this, Molina said that the task force would take no sides in the conflict other than enforcing the law. “This is to be a pacifying force,” he said. “We are a force that will hear both parties, to assist them in reaching an agreement on peaceful coexistence supported by us as in accordance with our responsibilities under the law.”
But security forces themselves have come under attack by armed groups in Colon as well. A military convoy was ambushed by unknown individuals in March, seriously injuring five soldiers. Such attacks may increase with the addition of more troops to the area.