Colombia's military launched a major offensive against the country's largest insurgency, one day after the peace process between the government and left-wing rebels fell apart. Thousands of soldiers flooded an area controlled for three years by the rebel group in hopes of reclaiming the land.
Throughout the day, the Colombian airforce dropped hundreds of bombs onto what was until yesterday a demilitarized zone held by the country's largest left-wing rebel group, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC.
Their aim was to destroy more than some 80 strategic points, including drug processing plants and clandestine airstrips used to transport cocaine out of the zone, and finance the rebel's insurgent war. Close to 10,000 soldiers and police were also sent in Thursday to retake towns in the zone. The guerrillas beat a hasty retreat into neighboring forests after the government announced it had scrapped the peace talks Wednesday night.
Colombia's President Andres Pastrana said he was fed up with the rebels flagrant misuse of the Switzerland-sized zone which was suppose to be a safe haven for peace talks. Instead it became a base for illicit activities, including the harboring of kidnap victims. The government is now preparing financially as well as militarily to launch a more ferocious war against the FARC.
Finance Minister Juan Manuel Santos announced that close to a billion dollars would be cut out of current investments and redirected to the army. Colombia's financial community appears to agree with the strong-arm approach.
Patricia Cardenas, head of a Colombian banking association, said we will pay whatever is necessary until this country is finally at peace. The U.S. administration has backed President Pastrana's decision to end the talks. So far, U.S. assistance in Colombia is limited to anti-drug activities.
But Colombia's leading candidate for president in the upcoming spring elections has declared he will seek foreign military support to fight the FARC - particularly from the U.S. administration, who have classified the rebels as international terrorists.
On Thursday, The U.N. special envoy for Colombia, James Lemoyne, called on FARC to release all of their hostages following the collapse of rebel-government peace talks.