Colombian President Gustavo Petro has suspended a ceasefire with the country’s main drug trafficking cartel, the Gulf Clan.
He accused it of “sowing anxiety and terror” and ordered the security forces to reactivate their military operations against the criminal gang.
The ceasefire had been agreed in December as part of the president’s plan for “total peace” in Colombia.
Its suspension is a major blow to Mr Petro’s attempt to end armed conflict.
His policy is radically different from that from his predecessor in office, Iván Duque, who tried to secure peace by stepping up military operations against Colombia’s illegal armed groups.
Mr Petro is instead trying to negotiate an end of hostilities with dozens of criminal organisations.
On 31 December 2022, the government had announced that it had reached a bilateral ceasefire with the Gulf Clan as well as rebels of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissidents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) among others.
But this past week, President Petro has accused the Gulf Clan of breaking the ceasefire, blaming it for an attack on an aqueduct and saying it had incited protests from informal gold miners.
In a tweet, he also accused Gulf Clan members of shooting at police officers.
“From this moment, there is no ceasefire with the Gulf Clan. The security forces need to act immediately against the structures of this mafia organisation,” he wrote.
The head of Colombia’s police force, Henry Sanabria, said that more officers would be mobilised and sent to the areas where the Gulf Clan is most active.
The cartel has a presence in many of Colombia’s provinces and has established international connections with other criminal organisations, with whom it collaborates to smuggle drugs from Colombia to the US and as far away as Russia.
It is also engaged in people-smuggling and illegal goldmining.
The capture of its leader, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, also known as Otoniel, in 2021 weakened the structure of Gulf Clan, but cells of the group of have continued to operate.
President Petro has said that there is “obviously no possibility of negotiation” while the Gulf Clan continues to engage in illegal activities and attacks.