Colombia charges ex-rebels with Amazon destruction

Colombia on Thursday charged dissident rebels who rejected a peace accord with the government of deforesting vast swathes of Amazon forest to bring in cattle and grow the raw material for making cocaine.

Miguel Botache Santillana, a fugitive leader of a renegade faction of the former rebel army FARC, and two underlings were charged with leading an “aggressive deforestation” campaign for illegal purposes since 2016, attorney general Francisco Barbosa said.

The indictment accuses them of “invading an area of special ecological importance,” damaging natural resources, financing coca plantations and criminal association, Barbosa said.

The 2016 peace agreement between the FARC — Latin America’s largest and oldest guerrilla army — and the Colombian government ended decades of war, but some FARC factions rejected the accord and kept fighting.

Under that accord, the FARC abandoned huge stretches of land that it had controlled. But criminal groups have since moved in to take their place, NGOs and farm advocacy organizations say.

Botache Santillana leads a rebel faction in Meta and Guaviare departments, the latter of which is one of the main areas of deforestation in Colombia’s part of the Amazon.

The Colombian military is trying to capture him and has bombed some of his camps.

The state-run Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies says that since most of the FARC disarmed under the peace accord, deforestation in Colombia shot up by 76 percent from 2015 to 2017.