Paraguay troops begun pouring into two Northern provinces Monday evening where a state of exception was declared to try and combat an outbreak of guerrilla attacks that has killed members of the police forces, kidnapped for ransom and robbed local banks.
According to Paraguayan media the first convoys of trucks and light armoured vehicles reached the city of Concepción late at night, following a vote in Congress last week to send the Army to support police forces in putting an end to killings, kidnappings and violence in the region by armoured gangs.
The Paraguayan People Army, EPP, apparently Marxist oriented, has been operating in the region for several years having lately kidnapped rich farmers demanding ransom, attacked lightly protected police stations in search for more arms, killing and injuring members of the force and generating an overall climate of fear.
The state of exception became effective Monday 18:00 hours local time.
Interior minister Carlos Filizzola had anticipated that during Monday’s cabinet meeting President Fernando Lugo would promulgate the bill sent by Congress.
Filizzola said the Executive would comply with the decision of Congress: “it will all be done in the framework of the rule of the law and strict balance between government branches” and with duration of sixty days.
‘Left-leaning’ by Paraguayan standards President Lugo is known to be contrary to the ‘state of exception’, insisting it is a police affair. Although the ‘exception’ bill was approved last week, he only signed it on Monday.
This has led members of the opposition to accuse President Lugo of protecting members of EPP which emerged and are active precisely in the impoverished San Pedro dioceses from where the former Roman Catholic bishop jumped into politics and to the presidency with the support of a catch-all left wing coalition that has since atomized.
Furthermore some EPP suspects caught by police forces, and their families, have been identified as closely linked to the Catholic Church and the teachings of the former bishop who had a reputation of defending poor peasants and indigenous tribes.
The suspects arrested belong to well off upper middle class families, with university education and are believed to have links with other South American guerrilla groups such as the FARC in Colombia.
Under the state of exception police forces are empowered to detain ‘suspects’ for questioning, even when the habeas corpus remains effective.
According to the Asuncion press in recent weeks there have been street demonstrations in Concepcion and San Pedro demanding the intervention of the Army to end with violence and threats from EPP ‘criminal gangs”.
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