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Colombia to send more troops to violence-hit S. provinces

(Xinhua)

15:53, September 29, 2011

BOGOTA, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Wednesday announced he will send more troops to the country's two southern departments Narino and Cauca following a recent surge in drug-related violence.

Santos said the number of armed forces in Narino, which is home to about 50 percent Colombia's illicit coca production, will be increased to 3,353 from 2,780 during the next two months, and there will be similar increase in troops in Cauca.

"All the public forces, all the armed forces, will in a joint effort be able to produce the results we have seen in other regions of the country, and little by little, we are going to take them (illegally armed groups) out of this region, which has been so hard hit by violence," Santos said during a visit to the southwestern port city of Tumaco in Narino province.

Santos said the enlarged armed forces will not be limited to the Navy, but also include the National Police and intelligence forces which support operations in the southern region, which is deemed as strategically important for criminal groups.

Narino, a center for drug trade, has been one of the regions most affected by the ongoing armed conflicts, while Cauca, a region important for the cultivation of coca, has also become a hot spot as drug cartels, paramilitary groups and guerrillas fight for control over drugs routes to the Pacific coast.

During the last two months, a surge in violent attacks has been reported across both Narino and Cauca, where armed gangs threw explosive devices and launched assaults in public places with long-range fire weapons.

A number of recent massacres in local communities have compelled the United Nations to issue a rare appeal to the government to take "urgent and immediate steps" to address the situation and do more to protect civilians.

Earlier in the day, Santos said the fight against the illegally armed groups is going well and will continue.

Colombia has one of the biggest armies in the world in terms of per capita size of the population, with about 250,000 uniformed personnel for the country's 46 million people.

Meanwhile, its military budget of some 11 billion U.S. dollars in 2009 equalled 6.5 percent of the country's GDP, one of the highest in public spending, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

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