Paraguay mulls security buildup over guerrilla threat

Oct. 25, 2011 at 6:09 PM
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ASUNCION, Paraguay, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Paraguay is considering a substantial build-up of its security apparatus as the threat from Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo guerrilla group sweeps through Concepcion and San Pedro departments northeast of the capital Asuncion.

Officials haven't ruled out adding more hardware to a mobilization that began earlier in the week and involved the dispatch from Asuncion of 50 military vehicles, including Urutu tanks, joint light tactical vehicles and troop transport trucks.

It wasn't immediately clear if landlocked Paraguay would request military help from neighbor Brazil, its strategic partner in energy and other industries. Paraguay wants to buy more military equipment if conditions are right and resources permit, government sources said.

Paraguay's buoyant economy was rattled by a violent upsurge of guerrilla activity. President Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic priest, has had to make hard choices and ordered a military crackdown despite reported reluctance to get drawn into a bloody conflict with the guerrilla fighters. Many of the guerrilla group members and several leaders are former Catholic priests.

On Oct. 10 Lugo decreed a 60-day "state of exception" in the two northern departments and ordered the military to eliminate the threat from the Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo guerrilla group, which sees the government as straying from the ideal of a socialist revolution.

Opposition critics say the Lugo administration has failed to narrow disparities between Paraguay's rich elite and majority mestizo in the country's population of 6.3 million.

The deterioration in the security situation has left the investor community concerned over future outlook, amid indications that cash inflows into the country could be slowing down in response to security uncertainties.

Lugo put Brig. Gen. Feliz Edgar Aldemir Pedrozo Moreno in charge of a joint police-military task force that will oversee the operation.

Both the government and opposition politicians say the EPP plans to disrupt Paraguayan society ahead of the 2013 presidential election with a series of key assassinations and attacks on military and police targets.

The government is already having to deal with the growing problem of a protest by the "roofless," a group of activists who set up a sit-in to press their demands for government measures to reduce homelessness.

More than 15,000 people are taking part in the protest about 12 miles from the capital.

The protesters have faced accusations they are anti-state elements seeking to destabilize Paraguay. Some of the EPP elements have also faced charges of having links with the FARC guerrilla group, active in Colombia and implicated with Venezuela.

Supporters of the protest squat said the accusations were baseless and invented by property developers seeking to have the protesters evicted from the area.

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