FARC funding squeeze driving attacks on oil and mining-minister

(Reuters) – Colombia’s FARC rebels have stepped up extortion and attacks on the oil and mining industries to finance their war as changes to the way the government distributes industry royalties have cut into the group’s revenues, the energy minister said on Monday.

More than a decade-long offensive by U.S.-backed troops has squeezed the fund-raising of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, pushing them deeper into inhospitable jungle and making it harder to raise cash from the drug trade.

Now, the FARC has switched from attacking the oil and mining industries for mostly political gain and instead hits corporate installations to sow fear and bring in money from extortion, the minister, Mauricio Cardenas, told local Caracol Radio.

He said the government would continue to secure the infrastructure of Colombia’s oil and mining industries, which last year attracted the bulk of more than $13 billion in foreign direct investment.

The royalties reform – a constitutional amendment approved last year – aims to spread billions of dollars from oil and mining more evenly to regional governments and prevent corrupt officials passing money to insurgent groups and crime gangs.

“The guerrillas are now in a very difficult situation, they ran out of funding sources, and can no longer maintain ties to narco-traffickers. So they want to return to the practice of extorting oil companies,” Cardenas said.

The FARC, Latin America’s oldest insurgency, has doubled its attacks on oil and mining infrastructure in the last couple of years, with more than 40 bombings already in 2012.

Last week the FARC killed five contracters working for state-owned Ecopetrol in the southern Putumayo province.

Cardenas urged companies to reject extortion demands and reiterated the government’s stance that any “foreign company engaged in this practice would be expelled from the country.”

Colombia is Latin America’s fourth-biggest crude producer and the world’s fourth-largest coal exporter.

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