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A helicopter carrying Colombian President Ivan Duque and other officials was hit by multiple bullets on Friday as it passed through Colombia’s Catatumbo region. The Head of State denounces “a cowardly attack”.
Ivan Duque deplores having been the victim of an attempted “cowardly attack”. The helicopter in which the Colombian president was traveling was the target of gunfire on Friday, June 25. The attack took place in the Norte department of Santander, a region in northeastern Colombia, near the Venezuelan border, ravaged by violence between armed groups and drug trafficking.
“It’s a cowardly attack, we see bullet holes on the presidential aircraft,” Duque said in an official statement, adding that his security service and the strength of the helicopter had succeeded in preventing that ” something deadly “is happening. Images released by the Presidency showed multiple bullet holes on the aircraft’s tail and main rotor.
Mr. Duque was on board the helicopter with his defense and interior ministers, and with the governor of the Norte de Santander department. No one was injured in the attack.
“We are not intimidated with violence or acts of terrorism. Our state is strong, and Colombia is strong enough to face this kind of threat,” added the conservative president.
First attack on a president in 2003
The government of the United States “strongly condemned the cowardly attack on the helicopter”, when the delegation in Colombia of the European Union expressed its “frontal and complete rejection” of this act.
This is the first attack against a Colombian head of state since that committed by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) in February 2003 against Alvaro Uribe, the political mentor of Ivan Duque. A high power bomb had exploded in a house near the airport of Neiva (southwest) shortly before the landing of the presidential plane, killing 15 and injuring 66.
Violence in the area
President Duque’s plane had taken off from the village of Sardinata, where the president and his attendants had attended a ceremony, and was heading for Cucuta, the department’s capital. This highly insecure area, one of Colombia’s main drug-producing regions, stretches along the porous 2,200-kilometer border with Venezuela.
The government forces there confront the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Pelusos, vestiges of a demobilized Maoist insurgency, as well as dissidents of the Farc and numerous gangs of drug traffickers. Armed groups are also fighting among themselves for control of the 41,000 hectares of coca leaves in the region, which is a major smuggling route to Venezuela and the Caribbean.
The peace process has stalled. Ivan Duque broke off in 2019 the negotiations that his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos was leading with the ELN in Cuba after signing a peace agreement with the Farc in 2016. He buried the talks after a January 2019 car bomb attack on the Bogota Police Academy, in which 22 cadets were killed, in addition to the perpetrator of the attack.