Colombia: July 19, 2003


 The three American Department of Defense contractors captured by FARC earlier this year are still alive, and FARC is still trying to get them exchanged for imprisoned FARC members. American Special Forces are said to be operating in Colombia in an effort to release the three men. US Special Forces have been increasingly (but quietly) active in Colombia.

Meanwhile, the government is forming a large rural self-defense force by allowing young men in the countryside to do their 18 months of conscript service in their own towns. The men would be part of local self-defense forces, after undergoing three months of basic and combat training. These men, usually in platoon (30-40 troops) strength, have radios and training on how to patrol and collect useful information. It is thought that because these men are locals, there will be no problems with civilians (especially troops abusing civilians) and that the locals will more readily supply information on rebel activity. This has run into problems, as the rebels are fighting back. Rebels threaten, and sometimes carry through, to kill families of soldiers. This is meant to discourage other young men from reporting for military service. Sometimes it works, but even in the countryside, long a area of support for the leftist rebels, people want peace and see the government as more likely to provide it than the rebels. FARC and ELN are losing ground out in the countryside, with more towns chasing out all rebel influence.




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