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Emerging Markets

Terror fears mount on FARC Anniversary

A higher level of political violence in Colombia, possibly linked to the anniversary of a guerrilla leader’s death, has heightened security concerns in Medellin around the IDB meeting.

A higher level of political violence in Colombia, possibly linked to the anniversary of a guerrilla leader’s death, has heightened security concerns in Medellin around the IDB meeting.

The authorities have received no credible threats, but tension has risen locally and they are taking precautions.

There are thousands of police officers and military back-up in the city. Armed, uniformed guards are posted at hotels and other venues where delegates may venture.

The land and air security roll out should not be seen as something extraordinary for this kind of international event, Antioquia state governor Alfredo Ramos said. No threats had been made against the IDB.

An IDB spokesman said security measures were similar to those at recent meetings in Peru in 2004, and Guatemala in 2007. But Colombia, unlike those countries, is still immersed in an internal conflict that, while having subsided, is still taking lives.

This year so far, 74 soldiers and 28 police officers have been killed in political violence. Four soldiers were killed on Tuesday in Guivare state, in an attack by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the continent’s oldest rebel group.

A Medellin businessman said local people were “very very worried” the IDB would be targeted.

President Alvaro Uribe himself announced on Thursday that a FARC column planning to assassinate the defence minister had been captured.

The government said an uptick in violence was a possible response by FARC to the first anniversary of the death in a Colombian military raid on a camp in Ecuador of Raul Reyes, one of its leaders.

Ramos said the government needs to continue its policy of working with members of irregular armed bands that have demobilized. “There is an environment of calm, but we need to continue giving the demobilized groups opportunities to progress.”

There has been a massive drop in murders and kidnappings in Medellin, Ramos pointed out. The city’s annual murder rate has dropped to 30 per 100,000 residents – similar to Washington DC’s – from 380 per 100,000 residents 15 years ago. There have been no kidnappings in Medellin for more than a year.

“We are confident that the situation will continue to improve,” said Ramos. But that could become harder in the current global economic crisis, which is being felt strongly in Colombia.

The government revised down its economic numbers for the final quarter of 2008, reporting that GDP contracted by 0.7%, the worst quarterly performance in nearly a decade. The growth rate for this year is now pegged between 0.5% and 1.5%, down from the initial 3%. Unemployment in January stood at nearly 15%.

Ramos said unemployment was among his chief concerns, with the economy shedding 8,000-10,000 jobs in greater Medellin in the last year.

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