Colombian army claims shutdown of huge FARC drug lab

BOGOTA, Colombia – The Colombian army said Tuesday, June 2, it dismantled a large synthetic drug laboratory it alleges was used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas to fund their insurgency against the government.

The army said the secret lab in the Marxist rebels' southern stronghold of Putumayo was set up for about 30 workers and had the capacity to produce three tons a month of cocaine and synthetic drugs.

"That amounts to about 30 billion pesos ($11.7 million) a month. It is a major blow to the FARC's logistical and financial structure," General Alfonso Vaca told journalists.

Vaca commands the 27th jungle brigade, which raided the lab's 8 wood and plastic structures at the weekend after a 3-month intelligence operation.

Military sources said it was the first time a synthetic drug lab operated by the FARC had been detected in that part of the country.

"This discovery indicates this terrorist group is implementing a new kind of criminal operation to obtain illegal financing," the army said in a statement.

It said the relative mobility of synthetic drug labs and a new market for these kinds of narcotics were drawing the FARC into the business.

The drugs produced in the lab were sent to the Sinaloa cartel, one of the main drug gangs in Mexico, military intelligence officials said.

Colombia, which vies with Peru for the title of world's top cocaine producer, has been in peace talks with the FARC since November 2012, seeking to end a five-decade conflict that has killed 220,000 people.

But while the negotiations have reached deals on several issues – including curbing the drug trafficking that has fueled the conflict – they have yet to yield a final accord–

Speaking at the opening of an international conference on fighting illegal drugs, President Juan Manuel Santos said reaching a peace deal would turn the rebels from "an adversary that profits from drug trafficking" into "part of building the solution."

Santos, whose country has been a top ally in the US war on drugs, also called for a new strategy to fight drug trafficking.

"What we need, more than a war, is a complete package of intelligent, well-designed, well-executed, people-centered measures," he said. –