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Security trends in high-risk countries: Colombia

COLOMBIA, which led the world in pipeline bombings until 2004, has experienced a drop in oil sector attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and National Liberation Army (ELN). After reaching a peak of 260 oil-sector attacks in 2001, the rate declined to 93 in 2004 and increased to roughly 120 in 2005, based in part on analysis of Colombian media reporting. Additionally, Farc and ELN conducted attacks on more than 225 electricity-transmission towers in 2005, forcing the country to import supply from Ecuador at various times. For 2006, the rate of energy-infrastructure attacks appears to have been in line with those in 2005.

Farc's and ELN's techniques have evolved beyond simple hit-and-run attacks. New features of attack patterns include multiple simultaneous pipeline bombings; staggered bombings either on the same day or after prior ruptures have been repaired; the laying of anti-personnel mines around ruptured line pipe – a technique mastered by Renamo guerillas against electricity infrastructure in Mozambique; and ambushes of military incident-response teams.

Since 2001, US military assistance to pipeline security efforts in Arauca has resulted in a significant decrease in attacks on the Caño Limón-Covenas pipeline, which is pumping about 100,000 barrels a day (b/d). The improved security – which has included the formation of counter-guerrilla battalions, aerial surveillance of the pipeline with Sky Master aircraft and detailed mapping of terrain and local villages – has been highly effective in the lowland areas of Arauca, where most of the attacks on the pipeline occurred before 2001. This has led to increased security problems in highland areas downstream: in July 2006, one attack killed two soldiers and two repair workers in Norte de Santander.

Improved security in Arauca has denied Farc guerillas access to safe havens in Venezuela and this has prompted the rebel group to move some of its operations south to the border with Ecuador. The result has been increased attacks on the 100,000 b/d Trans-Andean Pipeline and electricity infrastructure in the southern Putumayo, Narino and Cauca departments. The government's counterinsurgency response, which has included the redeployment of highway-protection battalions and mobile brigades from other parts of the country, has had limited success.

According to Colombian National Army reports, the presence of Farc bases in northern Ecuador led to imports of bomb-making materiel – such as large volumes of ammonium nitrate fuel oil – weapons and equipment. Without improved border control and counterinsurgency capabilities on the Ecuadorean side of the border, this activity may facilitate the continued disruption of energy infrastructure in southern Colombia.

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