Colombian Government questions guerrilla numbers

By Richard McColl, Monday, May 05, 2014

Ministry of Defense lambasts “false positives” of the guerrillas

Ministry of Defense lambasts “false positives” of the guerrillas

BOGOTA, Colombia - The Colombian Ministry of Defense has accused the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group of inflating the number of casualties they have inflicted year to date. 

The accusation comes as the 25th round of talks between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government’s negotiating team came to an end on Sunday, with no agreement reached on the subject of illegal drugs. 

Broadcasting their message through the New Colombia News Agency, the FARC – which has been waging a five decades long war against the government – claims to have killed 129 soldiers and 16 policemen between January and March 2014. 

But official Colombian government figures claim that a combined total of 77 soldiers and policemen have been killed in this period making it the lowest casualty rate in 13 years. In 2013, the number was 101 dead for the same period. 

“The FARC wants to have you believe that they are fighting the armed forces on level footing, but the country knows that the FARC is avoiding combat situations since they feel weak and for this reason they lie about their numbers,” said Román Ortiz, a Spanish conflict analyst in an interview to El Tiempo newspaper. 

Conversely the guerrilla group claims to have only registered four losses of life, two of their rank and file injured and three captured. The government’s figures, however, show that there have been 79 guerrilla deaths from both the FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) and a further 745 combatants captured. 

The term “false positives” as used by the Ministry of Defense, was first employed in 2009 when Human Rights Watch in Colombia supported allegations that the military had been luring drug addicts and indigents from poor areas of Bogota and killing them as if they belonged to rebel groups in conflict zones to inflate their death count numbers. There are believed to have been more than 3000 of these extrajudicial executions.

“The FARC — Colombia’s most violent terrorist group — still has significant power despite being defeated militarily,” said Ronald P. Archer, special advisor to U.S. Southern Command. “The FARC now focuses its ideological activities on recruitment, indoctrinating combatants, directing propaganda at civilians in conflict zones and feeding lies to Colombians and people overseas.”

The FARC, which has been involved in peace dialogues in Havana, Cuba with the Colombian government since 2012, is keen to appear strong during negotiations and is a formidable force to be reckoned with when it comes to social media and spreading their message overseas. 

“The FARC realized very quickly in the 1980s that they had to get their message out there and directed their efforts to an international audience,” said Henry Cancelado, a political scientist at Bogotá’s Universidad Nacional.

“The FARC’s reliance on actual foot-soldier activity is minimal alongside their management of the media and their political marketing — for example, publishing videos on YouTube,” Cancelado said. “They truly believe and know that the more public they make their cause, the better and the further their message will reach.”

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