May 30 (Bloomberg) -- The number of armed members of Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is down more than seventy percent since 2002 to around 6,900, according to Colombia’s Deputy Defense Minister Jorge Bedoya.
Peace talks with the Colombian government and a switch to softer targets including energy infrastructure are signs that Latin America’s oldest rebel group has been beaten on the battlefield in recent years, he said.
“The fact that FARC terrorists are sitting down in Havana negotiating a deal is the fruit of military victory,” Bedoya said in a Bogota interview yesterday. “They know their only option is a negotiated exit.”
Negotiators for FARC and the Colombian government have been in talks in Havana since November 2012, seeking an end to the country’s five-decade internal conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people, according to government estimates.
Rebel attacks on oil pipelines in Colombia surged more than 70 percent to 259 in 2013, and are now down 48 percent in the first four months of this year, according to Ministry of Defense data.
More troops in these areas, along with better intelligence on the location of explosives and the rebels carrying out infrastructure attacks has helped bring the number down this year, he said.
Pipeline repair time has been cut to about four days from 25 days in 2012, thanks to better coordination between the army and oil companies, Bedoya said. The army removes land-mines planted near exploded oil pipelines before company engineers can carry out repairs.
Colombia’s Trasandino pipeline near the Ecuador border and Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline near the Venezuela border are the most frequently attacked, Bedoya said.
The Cano Limon duct restarted operations May 25 after a two-month shutdown that cut production at Ecopetrol SA by more than two million barrels.
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