IRB – Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (Author)
Various sources consulted refer to Colombian "urban militias" and "commandos" of urban militias, although these terms are used generically or colloquially, not as proper names of groups. The various sources coincide in describing urban militias (milicias urbanas) as groups of ununiformed guerrillas operating from or within a city.
A 1999 report on urban militias in Colombia explains that these groups ceased some years ago to be purely logistic support branches of guerrilla organizations; they are now self-financing and militarily semi-autonomous groups, present in many of the main cities of the country (El Espectador 14 May 1999). The groups, also referred to as "urban cells" (células urbanas), reportedly grew considerably over the last few years, exercising a level of control over entire neighbourhoods or communities, throughout Colombian capital cities and other urban centres, financing their operations through armed propaganda actions and toll-excising, kidnapping and extortion (ibid.). The report, which cites intelligence sources from the Colombian security forces, states that the militias blend easily among the inhabitants of a neighbourhood, since the latter do not dare to identify them due to threats and intimidation (ibid.).
An earlier report focusing on militia distribution in Bogota cites the head of the Special Operations Unit of the Security Administration Department (DAS), stating that urban militias do not limit their operations to specific neighbourhoods or urban sectors, and some of their leaders live in upscale areas of the city (ibid. 3 Dec. 1998). The urban militias of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Ejército Nacional de Liberación (ELN) "coexist" (conviven) in some areas and have been detected in municipalities attached to Bogota (ibid.). The report states that the "political work" of urban militias includes indoctrination of youths, developing plans and infiltrating members into different state institutions, while the "operational work" (operativo) includes gathering information and following possible kidnap victims (who are handed afterwards to rural detachments), sabotage, propaganda, inciting violence during demonstrations, and terrorist acts as required by their leadership (ibid.).
The authorities do not have precise figures on the size of urban militias, but estimate that there is approximately one urban militia group for every guerrilla front, and that each urban cell has an area commander, who communicates with leaders of the fronts and coordinates the detachments under his command (ibid. 14 May 1999). Specific detachments of committees perform financial, intelligence and combat operations, the latter including armed attacks and kidnappings (ibid.).
Each guerrilla group has its own urban militias in different regions of the country, but the FARC has the largest network, with its Milicias Bolivarianas which have been operating in the main capital cities since 1987 (ibid.). The next largest network is that of the Milicias Populares of the ELN, followed by the Milicias Obreras of the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), and other smaller dissident groups which began as branches of guerrilla groups but have evolved into organized crime groups (ibid.).
Some urban militia groups appear to be branches of a guerrilla front or consider themselves independently-named fronts. For example, a report on threats and attacks against the mayor of Cali reports that FARC militias threatening to kill him described themselves as the "urban front Manuel Cepeda Vargas," while an ELN group that attempted to kill the mayor described itself as "urban militias of the Jose Maria Becerra front" (ibid. 4 Oct. 1999).
In recent years, urban militias have been expanding their presence throughout the main cities of Colombia and other smaller urban centres, and authorities regard Medellin as the city with the highest concentration of urban militias (ibid. 14 May 1999). These include the Comandos Armados Populares (Armed Popular Commandos, CAP), which originally formed part of the ELN urban militias and currently operate in various areas of the capital of Antioquia; it is particularly known for its extortion of merchants and businessmen, and at least one public transportation company of the city is required to pay a certain amount for every bus that passes through a specific area (ibid.).
The October 1998 Human Rights Watch Report, War Without Quarter: Colombia and International Humanitarian Law, available at Regional Documentation Centres, reports in Chapter V (Guerrilla Violations of International Humanitarian Law) on the use of urban militias by FARC, ELN and other groups.
COL29839.E of 7 August 1998 contains additional references to the urban militias of the FARC and the ELN. Information on protection available to persons threatened with kidnapping by guerrillas can be found in COL33287.E of 24 January 2000 and previous Responses. In addition to the information provided in the latter Response, the special anti-kidnapping task force (known as GAULA, mentioned in previous Responses) in the city of Medellin had dealt several recent blows to the FARC urban militias in the city, with 95 of its kidnappers captured and 50 victims freed over 18 months as of late-July 1999 (El Heraldo 31 July 1999). However, after capturing seven FARC urban militia members in the morning of 30 July 1999, the GAULA facilities in Medellin were bombed by FARC urban militias a few hours later in reprisal, destroying the site and several surrounding buildings, killing at least 10 people and injuring more than 30 (ibid.; Weekly Update on the Americas 1 Aug. 1999).
Although various sources indicate that support and "solidarity" groups relating to guerrilla groups in Colombia exist in other countries, no specific references to Colombian urban militias operating outside Colombia could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
El Espectador [Bogota]. 4
October 1999. "Amenazado alcalde de Cali." http://www.elespectador.com/9910/04/genotici.htm
[Accessed 24 Jan. 2000]
_____. 14 May 1999. "Las milicias
amenazan las ciudades." http://www.elespectador.com/9905/14/genotici.htm
[Accessed 24 Jan. 2000]
_____. 3 December 1998. "La guerrilla se
ha filtrado en Bogota." http://www.elespectador.com/9812/03/genotici.htm
[Accessed 24 Jan. 2000]
El Heraldo [Barranquilla]. 31
July 1999. "10 muertos por carrobomba" and "Atentado fue
retaliación de las FARC." http://www.elheraldo.com.co/99-07-31/nacionales/
noti2.htm [Accessed 24 Jan. 2000]
Weekly News Update on the
Americas [New York]. 8 August 1999. No. 496. "Colombia: Rebels
Blamed for Bomb Blast at Army Facility." firstname.lastname@example.org [Accessed 2 Aug. 1999]
Additional Sources Consulted
Andean Newsletter [Lima].
Latin American Regional Reports:
Andean Group Report [London]. 1997-1999.
World News Connection (WNC).
This list is not exhaustive.
Country-specific reports available at the Resource Centre are not
Internet search engines.