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Deep in the Jungle, Ecuador Targets the FARC

Friday, May 8, 2009

PUERTO NUEVO, Ecuador -- Camaraderie may be the key to military morale, but the 24 Ecuadorian troops traveling towards the Colombian border by helicopter maintain an eerie quiet. The Amazonian jungle stretches out below, apparently undisturbed but for the odd small farm or oil well. But appearances in the jungle can be deceiving. Under the foliage, invisible from the air, are FARC guerrilla bases and cocaine laboratories. The soldiers' mission over a five-day patrol covering around 25 kilometers will be to find and destroy them.

"It's a reality," says Gen. Fabián Narváez, the commander of Ecuadorian forces in the border region, referring matter-of-factly to what Colombia's long-running conflict means for its smaller neighbor. Since 2008, Narváez's forces have engaged FARC fighters on 14 occasions, most recently in February, when a female FARC guerrilla was shot and killed.

Gen. Fabián Narváez, commander of Ecuador's forces in the border region (Henry Mance).

This relatively low figure belies a larger presence. "The illegal armed groups of Colombia avoid combat with our units. Our soldiers have said to us many times, 'We feel as if we're being watched'!" says Gen. Narváez. "[For the guerrillas], time is not a problem. If they detect military presence, they simply freeze. But we have the urgency to achieve results." ...

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