Clashes between rival criminal groups in Colombia and destructive earthquake in Indonesia
Columbia: Clashes between rival criminal groups
An armed confrontation between two criminal groups on Nov. 20 killed 18 people and displaced residents in Puerto Guzmán, a municipality in the Putumayo department located approximately 60 mi (96 km) north of the Ecuador-Colombia border. The incident marked the deadliest clash between criminal factions since Colombian President Gustavo Petro took office in August 2022 and occurred a day before the resumption of peace talks between the National Liberation Army (ELN) – Colombia’s largest remaining guerilla group – and the Colombian government. While there were no reported casualties among the local civilian population, the clash resulted in private property damage, displacing 15 families in the José María township – a rural area in the Puerto Guzman municipality. The groups involved in the confrontation, Border Commandos and Southwestern Bloc, consist of former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – a Marxist militia formed in 1964 and disbanded in 2016 – who refused to take part in the 2016 peace accord. Both organizations are involved in transnational drug trafficking and territorial disputes over smuggling routes in the Putumayo region. While the peace negotiations that resumed in Caracas on Nov. 21 involved only the ELN, the Petro government has extended peace talk invitations to all rebel and criminal organizations. In an attempt to honor the government’s peace initiative, the leader of the Southeastern Bloc – the largest FARC dissident group – declared a unilateral ceasefire in September and vowed to halt attacks against security forces. Notably, the group did not promise to avoid armed clashes amid ongoing territorial conflicts with other criminal factions; the Nov. 20 incident demonstrates that the ceasefire only applies to violence targeting security forces. The renewed talks in Caracas are the first attempt to return to the peace process since 2018, when the ELN exited the negotiations due to disagreements over demands with then-President Iván Duque. While more than 20 armed groups have agreed to demobilize in return for judicial leniency, the resumption of the peace talks does not guarantee a complete halt in criminal or anti-government activities. Rebel groups are capable of launching large-scale anti-government attacks targeting security forces and infrastructure that result in widespread disruptions to travel and business operations, as demonstrated by the ELN’s national armed strike launched in February. In addition, clashes between rival criminal organizations engaged in illegal mining and drug trafficking should not be ruled out in the medium term, including in the Putumayo region.
Indonesia: Powerful earthquake results in casualties, property damage
A 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck near the town of Cianjur, West Java province, on Nov. 21, triggering landslides, widespread infrastructure and private property damage, and power outages. According to West Java governor Ridwan Kamil, the tremor killed at least 271 people and injured more than 2,000 others; about 40 people remain missing. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) reported that the earthquake destroyed or damaged more than 56,000 buildings, including houses, religious facilities, schools, and hospitals. Authorities have evacuated nearly 62,000 people and set up dozens of relief camps around the affected areas. The earthquake primarily impacted the district of Cianjur and 15 nearby sub-districts. Tremors were also felt in Greater Jakarta, although no significant damages were reported in the capital region. Power outages – reported in several areas of West Java – in combination with travel infrastructure damage hampered initial rescue operations. However, communications infrastructure has been partially repaired, and relief supplies started to arrive from Jakarta on the morning of Nov. 22. The Indonesian archipelago lies in a highly active seismic zone known as the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” although most of Indonesia’s earthquakes are minor and cause little damage. Exceptions include two other powerful earthquakes that occurred in West Sumatra and West Sulawesi provinces in February 2022 and January 2021, respectively. Both disasters killed at least 125 people, injured nearly 7,000 others, and caused widespread infrastructure damage. The full extent of the economic impact of the Nov. 21 tremor remains unclear, and rescue operations are ongoing in the Cianjur region and outlying areas. West Java authorities have recorded 140 aftershocks in the region since the earthquake, which could trigger additional landslides and will likely complicate recovery efforts and cause additional infrastructure damage.