A paramilitary/criminal drug gang that is believed to control much of the narcotics trafficking in the eastern plains of Colombia has begun to demobilize and surrender to the authorities, according to reports.
About 150 soldiers of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC) were transported by helicopter to the city of Villavicencio, near the capitol of Bogota, BBC reported. They will remain in custody there until a judge can determine their legal status.
The Colombian newspaper El Espectador reported that 25 prosecutors and at least 300 government officials are in Villavicencio to monitor and coordinate the mass surrender of ERPAC members.
The paper noted that most members will likely face charges of conspiracy, drug trafficking and weapons manufacturing.
Caracol Radio reported, however, that some ERPAC members may receive light sentences in exchange for voluntarily surrendering and laying down their arms.
Reportedly, a second contingent of ERPAC members -- including the apparent leader of the group Jose Eberto Lopez (known as ‘Caracho’) -- is due to surrender within a few days.
Mystery surrounds this sudden change in behavior. A spokeswoman for Colombia’s attorney general’s office told media that they did not negotiate with ERPAC to surrender.
BBC reports that local media suspect that perhaps other drug gangs are pressuring ERPAC to give up their lucrative narcotics trading routes to Venezuela. Others speculate that Caracho may be seeking lenient treatment from government authorities.
The former leader of ERPAC, Pedro Guerrero (also known as Cuchillo) was killed by police last year.
Elyssa Pachico, an analyst for organized crime website InSight Crime, told Colombian media that Caracho's faction accounts for about one-third of the 1,200 active ERPAC members.
It may be just Caracho's faction of the ERPAC which is demobilizing,” he said.
“There is reportedly another faction loyal to another paramilitary leader. So that probably explains why just [about] 400 out of 1,200 guys are demobilizing. That ERPAC faction will probably stay in the Eastern Plains and keep on trafficking drugs.
Pachico added: Meanwhile you have alleged paramilitary, Victor Carranza, who always hated the ERPAC and another old timer, Hector German Buitrago, alias ‘Martin Llanos,’ who… also hates the ERPAC. I think if there's going to be fighting over the Llanos; it's going to originate in the Llanos.