Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia police arrest 22 'gang members'

Handout picture by the Colombian Police showing the suspects with their faces blurred Image copyright Colombian Police
Image caption Colombian police paraded some of the detained before the media

Police in Colombia have arrested 22 men they suspect of being members of the Urabenos criminal gang.

They accuse the gang of trying to expand from its power base in the Gulf of Uraba to the eastern plains.

President Juan Manuel Santos has declared the gang, which is led by a man known as Otoniel, as one of the main enemies of the Colombian state.

The Urabenos control many of the routes used to smuggle drugs from Colombia as far away as Russia and the US.

Police said two of the men arrested were influential figures in the Urabeno's criminal structure.

They allege that John Alexander Pinto Diaz, also known as JJ, had been sent to Meta province to extend the gang's drug smuggling routes there and in the neighbouring provinces of Cundinamarca and Casanare.

Willar Duarte Arango is suspected of having been in charge of the logistical and financial support for the criminal gang in the region.

They were captured in the city of Villavicencio, south-east of the capital, Bogota.

Colombian police chief General Jorge Hernando Nieto Rojas said the capture of the two and the 20 others suspected of working with them would make the region safer.

"They were responsible for extortions, murders and the forced recruitment of minors," he alleged.

Analysts have warned that, as the Colombian government reaches a peace agreement with the largest rebel group, the Farc, criminal gangs are likely to try to expand into areas formerly controlled by the guerrilla.

Farc negotiators are expected to travel from Cuba, where peace negotiations have been held, to Colombia later on Monday to sign a revised peace agreement. The original agreement was rejected by Colombians last month in a popular vote.

The revised document is not expected to be put to another popular vote but to be passed to Congress for approval.

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