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Colombia's new security push

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Fredy Builes/Reuters

(Read caption) Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during Army Day, the 192nd anniversary of the Battle of Puente de Boyaca, in Boyaca, August 7, 2011.

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Amid accusations that the security situation in Colombia is taking a turn for the worse, President Juan Manuel Santos has announced an overhaul of security doctrine, to counter new tactics adopted by the Marxist rebels and the increasing threat presented by narco-paramilitary gangs.

The president made the announcement as he looked over the ground where 192 years ago, the Spanish were decisively defeated at the Battle of Boyaca. Even as he celebrated the definitive moment in the liberation of the Americas, he must have wondered what it was going to take to bring an end to the current 47-year civil conflict.

President Santos has recognized, perhaps belatedly, that the civil conflict has entered a new phase. The Marxist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberacion Nacional - ELN) are now presenting fewer targets for an army geared up for a traditional counterinsurgent war. The rebels are relying more and more on militiamen, who operate in civilian clothing and hide amongst the civilian population, rather than uniformed and heavily armed guerrilla fighters.

Their relationship between the rebels and the new generation narco-paramilitary groups, called BACRIMs ("'bandas criminales" - criminal bands), means that all illegal actors in the conflict are now united not only in the interests of resisting the advance of central government, but for the drug trade.

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