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Bogota, November 22 (EFE).- The Colombian authorities arrested five people who were part of an extortion network linked to the dissidence of the 33rd Front of the former FARC that operated in the department of Norte de Santander (on the border with Venezuela) and which is accused of setting fire to trucks.

“The Prosecutor’s Office prosecuted five alleged members of this structure responsible for demanding money from merchants, transporters and miners in the border area with Venezuela. The burning of cargo vehicles and other violent actions in Norte de Santander are also attributed to them, “said that institution in a statement.

The proceedings in which the five men were arrested were carried out by the Prosecutor’s Office and the Police in Cúcuta, the departmental capital of Norte de Santander.

“The test material revealed that this structure burned the cargo vehicles or activated explosive devices against the commercial premises of the victims who did not meet the economic requirements,” the information added.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, these men pressured a person on October 4 in the municipality of Chitagá to sign a document in which he allegedly sold a mining title that was in his name for 300 million pesos ($61,000).

“The owner of the land did not agree to the request and for several days armed persons threatened him at his place of residence,” added the Prosecutor’s Office.

The leader of the network is Pedro Antonio Franco Rodríguez, alias “El Viejo”, who was “in charge of selecting the victims and, in some cases, summoned them to the dissidence camps located in the border area to increase the level of of intimidation.”

“The evidence shows that he was in direct contact with alias ‘Jhon Mechas’ (head of the 33rd Front) and other leaders to provide them with logistical support and account for the money obtained,” the information added.

BURNED TRUCKS

These arrests come hours after armed men set fire to seven trucks traveling with cargo along one of the main highways in the department of Norte de Santander.

A soldier (i) was searched this Monday, November 22, while providing security next to a truck that was set on fire the day before, on a highway in the department of Norte de Santander (Colombia). EFE/Mario Caicedo

The terrorist action was perpetrated by at least five men armed with rifles and wearing clothing for the exclusive use of the military, who intercepted the vehicles on the highway between Cúcuta and Ocaña, the second largest city in that department.

According to what the truck drivers denounced, the attackers intercepted them as they were driving through the La Curva sector, where they forced them to get out of the vehicles and immediately set them on fire, before going into the mountains.

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