BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia will launch a military offensive against illegal armed groups operating in border areas, and it is seeking collaboration from neighbors, Interior Minister Alfonso Prada said on Monday.
The South American country has been rocked by almost six decades of internal conflict, leaving at least 450,000 dead.
President Gustavo Petro, the first leftist to lead the country, who took power in August, recently restarted peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group, with negotiations in Venezuela, while also looking to implement a 2016 peace deal with now-demobilized FARC guerrillas.
Under plans for total peace, Petro also hopes to end fighting with two dissident FARC factions who reject that peace deal, while drug traffickers and criminal gangs involved in cocaine production and trafficking could receive reduced prison sentences if they submit to justice, share details about trafficking routes, and turn over their fortunes.
"We have established contact with the countries on the border, because we noticed activity on the border that we are going to combat with our forces, but also with the international collaboration of Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela and Panama," Prada told journalists.
The aim is to confront criminal groups operating internationally with focuses in various illegal industries, which requires collaboration with other countries, Prada said.
Six platoons of 400 personnel each will be deployed to the south of the country, Prada added. Recent fighting in the region between two factions of FARC dissidents over control of drug trafficking left at least 18 people dead.
Security sources said extensive crops of coca - the main ingredient in cocaine - have been detected along Colombia's borders, as have laboratories for producing the drug. They also reported that illegal armed groups involved in drug trafficking and with ties to Mexican cartels are operating in the region.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing Oliver Griffin; Editing by David Gregorio)