The man who the Colombian government considers to be the mastermind behind the capture and killing of three Ecuadorian newspaper staff members was injured in a shootout with military members this weekend.
According to a Defense Ministry statement, Walter Arizala, known by the alias Guacho, was hit twice by rifle shots in the town of Tumaco in the southwest department of Nariño. While rumors swirl on social media that Guacho could be dead, President Iván Duque’s government has said it is rushing to confirm the location of the FARC dissident who turned his back on the 2016 peace talks.
The statement from Defense Minister Guillermo Botero described military officials as getting within 100 meters of Guacho when exchanging fire. After he was hit, however, Botero said that the rebel leader was helped by his fellow dissidents from the Oliver Sinisterra group.
“Military and police forces inform us that Guacho was hurt this morning and the military and police forces are now enclosing the area in which he was hurt so they can find him,” said Duque in a Saturday statement. “Guacho’s party is over. I met with the police and army higher commands and I gave very clear instruction on how we should move forward to dismantle that bloc that calls itself ‘Oliver Sinisterra.’”
Defense officials said they have communicated with hospitals and clinics in the area to make sure any sign of Guacho is reported to authorities.
On top of the brutal murder of two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver earlier this year, the government has also blamed the murder of a young couple from Ecuador on the Oliver Sinisterra Front leader.
Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno sent out a tweet over the weekend confirming that he is closely monitoring the situation. “This is good news for our country,” Moreno wrote, “there will be no impunity.”
A member of Colombia’s Navy was confirmed killed in the weekend shootout near Tumaco.
Who are Frente Oliver Sinisterra?
Named after former FARC rebel leader Oliver Sinisterra–who was from Nariño and died in 2015–the group are an offshoot of the FARC following the latter’s historic decision to make peace with the Colombian government.
Following the FARC’s laying down of arms and entry into politics, Frente Oliver Sinisterra was formed and led by Walter Arizala (aka Guacho in the local media), and continued to profit from narcotrafficking routes in Nariño. Guacho, who had been head of the rebel unit Frente 29 before it had been renamed, had a USD$100,000 bounty on his head as security forces intensified efforts to effect his capture. Earlier in April, coordinating security forces were able to capture Brayan, a high-level member of the organisation.
The rebel group had specifically begun targeting Ecuadorean nationals due to the country’s continued offensive against the rebels. Recently, Ecuador had amped up security measures against rebel activities on the frontier. Earlier this year, National Police of Ecuador confirmed that 43 prisoners of the rebel group were in their custody.
With reporting by Michael Krumholtz and Arjun Harindranath.
A version of this article originally appeared on Colombia Focus.