Colombia ‘on alert’ amid manhunt for fugitive Ecuador gang boss
QUITO, Ecuador (AFP)— Colombia’s army was on high alert Friday over the possibility that gangsters who escaped from Ecuador’s prisons, including a powerful cartel leader, could enter the country.
Neighbouring Ecuador has been rocked by gang violence since the leader of the country’s biggest gang, Los Choneros, escaped from prison, prompting a government crackdown on drug cartels.
The government has deployed troops and soldiers are patrolling the streets after a series of explosions and armed attacks that have left at least 16 people dead in five days, while scores of prisoners escaped.
On Friday police confirmed the authenticity of a video showing the dead body of a prisoner wrapped in plastic being thrown onto the street from inside a jail.
At least 175 prison guards and administrative officials are being held hostage by inmates in the country’s restive and graft-afflicted penitentiary system where druglords wield outsized control.
The situation has prompted neighbours Colombia and Peru to reinforce security on their borders.
“There are 20 fugitives for which we are on high alert,” said Colombian army chief Helder Giraldo.
Asked whether Los Choneros chief Adolfo Macias, alias “Fito,” could already be on Colombian territory, he said, “it’s possible.”
Once a bastion of peace situated between major cocaine producers, Ecuador has been plunged into crisis after years of growing control by transnational cartels that use its ports to ship the drug to the United States and Europe.
Criminal gangs in the country of about 17 million people are thought to have more than 20,000 members.
Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer, fears a deterioration in border security as a result of Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa’s declaration of war against the gangs.
Noboa also announced plans for the “repatriation” of 1,500 imprisoned Colombians to reduce overcrowding in Ecuador’s prisons.
However, Colombian President Gustavo Petro slammed the idea as a problematic “mass expulsion.”
On Friday, Ecuadoran citizens began resuming normal activity in main cities, after several days cowering at home in fear. The majority of shops re-opened and public transport resumed.